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5 environmental justice hashtags that drove real-world impact

It’s been over a decade since hashtag-driven movements like #IceBucketChallenge and #IranElections made it clear that social media activism could indeed propel real-world action. For example, #IceBucketChallenge resulted in a 187% increase in research funding for ALS and #IranElections functioned as an organizing tool for protests over the disputed 2011 election in Iran. Both drove awareness and created a global platform for ALS research and the Iran elections respectively.

In honor of April being Earth Month, we’re taking a quick dive into hashtag activism on behalf of the planet. Today, social media hashtags allow environmental warriors to coordinate impactful movements, both locally and across the globe.

Using Infegy Atlas, our flagship social listening solution, we tracked and gained social intelligence audience insights on these movements. Here, we share these insights into how five environmental hashtag movements have impacted environmental activism efforts.

Online trends that reflect real world action

We chose to analyze the following five hashtags, each of which is related to an environmental activism movement.

  1. #ClimateStrike
  2. #GreenNewDeal
  3. #NoDAPL
  4. #StopCopCity
  5. #FlintWaterCrisis

Social post trends

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Figure 1: Social media trends related to five environmental activism hashtags over the last decade; Infegy Atlas Data.

As indicated in Figure 1, each hashtag experienced an uptrend in activity at a certain point in time. These activity spikes illustrate the power of social media in driving conversations about a certain trending topic.

Let’s take a more detailed look at each of these hashtag movements and their impact on environmental causes.

Related: Hashtags save lives: analyzing the impact of online activism (Blog)

Hashtag movement #1 – #ClimateStrike

Started in 2018 by then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg, #ClimateStrike is an environmental movement that encourages students to protest climate change by skipping school. The movement began in August 2018 when Thunberg staged a protest outside the Swedish parliament by holding a sign that read, “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (“School strike for climate”). Since then, the hashtags #ClimateStrike and #FridaysForFuture have encouraged students around the world to skip school on Fridays in an effort to draw attention to the perils of climate change.

To begin our analysis, let’s use social listening to take a look at other hashtags associated with the #ClimateStrike movement.

Related hashtags

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Figure 2: Hashtags often associated with #ClimateStrike, colorized by sentiment analysis metrics (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas Data.

As shown in Figure 2, those involved with #ClimateStrike also reference other hashtags related to the movement, such as #FridaysForFuture, #ClimateChange, #ClimateAction, #GretaThunberg. The green color in Figure 2 indicates that the sentiment of these references is overwhelmingly positive.

Day of week trends

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Figure 3: Day of week trends related to five environmental activism hashtags (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas Data.

Also note that, while the other hashtags we analyzed remained somewhat consistent throughout the week, #ClimateStrike experienced a significant volume spike on Fridays. This is due to the associated hashtag, #FridaysForFuture, which prompted a spike in activity on Fridays as students protested climate change by skipping school.

Age of hashtag participants

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Figure 4: Age distribution of those sharing various social activism hashtags (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas Data.

When compared to the other hashtag movements included in this article, we can see that #ClimateStrike has a much younger demographic (Figure 4). This is not surprising given that the movement was founded by a young activist and is focused on empowering middle and high-school-aged students.

The impact of #ClimateStrike

Since it began in 2018, the #ClimateStrike movement has become a global phenomenon, inspiring millions of young people to demand government action on climate change. The impacts of this hashtag movement include:

  • Increased awareness and public attention to the urgency of the climate crisis, leading to greater public pressure on governments and corporations to take action on climate change.
  • Political mobilization and policy changes, including the adoption of climate policies and commitments by governments and businesses in response to public pressure and protests.
  • Influence on international climate negotiations, including the March 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, where youth activists made headlines with their protests and calls for action.

Hashtag movement #2 – #GreenNewDeal

While the term “Green New Deal” was originally coined by Thomas Friedman in 2007, it has experienced a resurgence since February 2019 when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced a 14-page resolution to Congress calling for the federal government to create a Green New Deal. The proposal drew attention to the need for a comprehensive policy framework to address climate change, social justice, and economic inequality. Although the Senate overwhelmingly voted against advancing the resolution, the resulting hashtag #GreenNewDeal continues to trend on social media.

Related hashtags

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Figure 5: Hashtags often associated with #GreenNewDeal colorized by Sentiment analysis metrics (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas Data.

A look at other hashtags related to #GreenNewDeal provides insight into the interests and concerns of the movement’s supporters. In Figure 5, notice the overlap in other primarily Democrat-driven causes, such as #MedicareForAll. Also notice the hashtag #FridaysFor Future, which is related to the #ClimateStrike movement that gained traction around the same time.

Using interest analysis to view other interests of #GreenNewDeal users

Infegy Interests analysis shows what else the audience is interested in and discussing within the full scope of their online profiles and posts. A look at Interests and the accompanying sentiment analysis related to #GreenNewDeal provides insight into the mindset of the people driving the movement.

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Figure 6: Interests analysis – top interests of those using #GreenNewDeal (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas data.

In Figure 6, notice the negative sentiment toward Donald Trump and the positive sentiment toward Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among those who use the hashtag. This indicates the political leanings of many involved in the movement.

Again, we see an overlap in Interests between those active in the #GreenNewDeal movement and Greta Thunberg, the founder of the #ClimateStrike movement. Even though these are two separate movements backed by different groups, they are related by the hashtags of those active in both.

You can learn more about all the ways you can glean insights from social media conversation using Infegy Atlas here. 

The impact of #GreenNewDeal

#GreenNewDeal continues to impact the conversation around climate change.

  • Shaping the political conversation – The Green New Deal has become a key topic of political conversations surrounding climate change in the United States. Many politicians and activists continue to use the proposal as a framework for discussing the urgency and scope of the climate crisis.
  • Inspiring activism – The hashtag movement has inspired a new wave of activism around climate, with multiple youth-led movements, including #FridaysForFuture and #SunriseMvmt (Sunrise Movement).
  • Informing policy – #GreenNewDeal has influenced policy at the state and local levels, with several cities and states adopting their own versions of the proposal or incorporating its goals into their climate action plans.
  • Driving investment – The hashtag movement has driven investment in clean energy and infrastructure, with many investors and companies recognizing the economic potential of transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

Related: Learn all the ways you can use social intelligence to boost your business and marketing outcomes!

Hashtag movement #3 – #NoDAPL

Short for “No Dakota Access Pipeline,” this hashtag movement began in April 2016 as grassroots opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Although the movement ended on February 23, 2017, when the last protesters were evicted by law enforcement and the National Guard, it brought attention to the concerns faced by residents of the Standing Rock Native American reservation, who were worried about the pipeline’s potential impact on the reservation’s water supply.

Related hashtags

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Figure 7: Hashtags often associated with #NoDAPL, colorized by sentiment (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas Data.

Using our social intelligence tool, Infegy Atlas, we can see that hashtags associated with #NoDAPL include references to Native Americans (#StandingRock/#Indigenous), water (#CleanWater/#WaterProtectors), politicians (#NeverHillary/#JillStein/#NeverTrump/#FeelTheBern), and social justice causes (#BlackLives Matter/#Occupy).

The tendency of associated hashtags to be associated with other left-wing issues coincides with the fact that a geographic analysis illustrates the majority of social posts were from people located in more liberal states.

Geographic analysis

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Figure 8: Geographic analysis of #NoDAPL frequency (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas data..

As illustrated in Figure 8, the frequency of posts using #NoDAPL was highest in politically left-leaning states such as California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and New York.

The impact of #NoDAPL

Although the pipeline was eventually built and remains operational today, the hashtag movement made a lasting impact.

  • Environmental impact reviews – The movement brought attention to the pipeline’s construction and prompted several environmental impact reviews of the project.
  • Project delay – The movement’s protests and sit-ins disrupted construction and delayed the pipeline’s completion by several months.
  • Indigenous rights issues – The hashtag and related conversations drew attention to indigenous issues such as treaty rights, land sovereignty, and cultural preservation.

Related: Learn how conservation communications agency DJ Case & Associates uses Infegy social intelligence in their conservation efforts (Case Study).

Hashtag movement #4 – #StopCopCity

A more recent and ongoing example of hashtag environmental activism has to do with a proposed police training facility slated to be built in a forested area of Atlanta. The proposed construction involves cutting down significant forest land, which has raised concerns with both local residents and environmental activists.

Related hashtags

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Figure 9: Hashtags often associated with #StopCopCity, colorized by sentiment (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas data.

In Figure 9, the first thing you may notice is that the colors orange and red appear much more frequently than in the two previous hashtag analyses. That’s because sentiment regarding the so-called “Cop City” is more negative.

Particularly notable are the hashtag references to Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán, a #CopCity protester who was fatally shot by police while protesting near the proposed construction site. The hashtag analysis also includes references to social justice causes related to policing such as #DefundThePolice, #AbolishThePolice, and #BlackLivesMatter.

Geographic analysis

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Figure 10: Geographic analysis of #StopCopCity frequency (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Our social listening tool indicates that, in contrast to the #NDAPL movement, #StopCopCity is primarily a localized event, with the vast majority of posts coming from people in the state of Georgia (Figure 10). The increase in posts from left-leaning states such as New York and California may be linked to the social justice issues related to the movement.

The impact of #StopCopCity

#StopCopCity is an active movement that continues to evolve. While ongoing protests continue, the movement has so far been able to accomplish the following.

  • A reduction in facility size – The city of Atlanta has agreed to shrink the size of the facility by half.
  • A restriction on certain activities – The training facility will no longer allow bomb detonations in residential neighborhoods.
  • National attention – The movement has begun to gain national attention, as illustrated by an uptrend in posts from states such as California and New York.

Hashtag movement #5 – #FlintWaterCrisis

In 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan, switched its water source to the Flint River, which resulted in lead contamination of the city’s water supply and caused widespread health issues among residents. In addition to high levels of lead, the city faced the third-largest outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in U.S. history. The outbreak killed 12 and sickened at least 87 people between June 2014 and October 2015.

The crisis was caused by a combination of aging infrastructure, a lack of proper water treatment facilities, and alleged government mismanagement.

Related hashtags

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Figure 11: Hashtags often associated with #FlintWaterCrisis (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas data.

A social listening analysis of related hashtags illustrates the activism that took place among Flint residents in order to bring attention to their water issues. Hashtags such as “#BeTheChange,” “#SaveFlintChallenge,” and “#CleanWater4Flint” reflect an effort to motivate others to take action.

Geographic analysis

Since post volume is generally a proxy for interest in and visibility of a conversation topic, we can see how this conversation looked on a national scale. Geographical distribution of the conversation shows that the Flint Water crisis did indeed have an impact on a national level (Figure 12).

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Figure 12: Geographic distribution (district marketing areas) of the #FlintWaterCrisis conversation (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Keyword analysis

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Figure 13: Keywords often associated with #FlintWaterCrisis (2013-2023); Infegy Atlas data.

An analysis of keywords related to #FlintWaterCrisis shows both positive and negative sentiment (Figure 13). Positive sentiment keywords are related to showing support for the residents of Flint and motivating others to act. Negative sentiment keywords include “poison,” “toxic,” and “contaminated,” as well as references to public outrage, such as “shameful,” “disgusting,” and “disaster.”

Impact of #FlintWaterCrisis

The Flint Water Crisis resulted in:

  • Public awareness – It raised public awareness about the risks of lead contamination in drinking water and spurred efforts to improve water quality monitoring and testing across the United States.
  • Policy changes – It prompted changes to federal and state laws around acceptable levels of lead in drinking water, including the passage of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, which provided funding for lead pipe replacement and other infrastructure upgrades.
  • Government accountability – It led to increased scrutiny and accountability for government officials at the local, state, and federal levels, with several officials facing criminal charges for their role in the crisis.

Track trends and social impact with social media data

Social media is a powerful tool that can be used to draw attention to a cause, inspire action and drive change. It continues to mobilize environmental activism at both local and national levels. The five examples included here illustrate the lasting impact hashtag movements can have on a cause.

Social listening platforms, such as Infegy Atlas, provide valuable insight into hashtag movements. To learn more about how our social listening insights can help support your particular mission, request a custom demo today.