A new study finds that while online communications - social media, blogs, etc. - have "the potential to enrich public deliberation," a major potential downside is that "online incivility may impede this democratic goal." The study's authors specifically looked at a "neutral" blog post on nanotechnology -- an "emerging technology" that is unfamiliar to most people. What the authors found is that there is a "significant interaction" between online incivility and risk perceptions depending on levels of familiarity with nanotechnology. Specifically, the authors found that "[w]hen exposed to uncivil comments, those who have higher levels of support for nanotechnology were more likely to report lower levels of risk perception and those with low levels of support were more likely to report higher levels of risk perception."
Given our focus on, and support for, rapidly emerging clean technologies such as wind and solar power, this study certainly caught our attention. Assuming that the findings are correct, it seems to us that they would have direct relevance to efforts at marketing clean energy, and also at defending against attacks on the industry. Of course, these sorts of blog comment pile-ons aren't limited to clean energy, but you've probably noticed that practically any comment list beneath a cleantech story is going to have fossil fuel apologists galore. Typically, these folks are aggressive, rude and dumb - lashing out at the writer and at people making thoughtful, informed comments.
What should supporters of clean energy be doing about this situation? Clearly, one option would be to simply ignore the attacks on solar, wind, etc. in the comments sections of online publications and other social media outlets. The problem with this approach is that it leaves the online playing field free for the cleantech bashers to skew readers' attitudes without any pushback. The other option would be for supporters of clean energy to wade into online comments sections and to fight back, certainly in a positive way in support of cleantech, but also possibly by pointing out problems with dirty energy. Of course, this would take time and effort, but based on the results of the study referenced above, it might very well be worth it.