February 10, 2023

Climate change education: Where are students getting their information?

The majority of students (79% to be exact) believe climate change is real and that it is mainly caused by human activity. However, comprehensive education on this important topic is not required in most states. So where are students learning about climate change? 

Recent research shows that 56% of 14 – 18-year-olds are learning about climate change from social media apps, primarily YouTube and TikTok. They’re finding videos, memes, and articles from influencers, media outlets, and environmental organizations that explain the science behind climate change and its effects on the planet.

The Importance of Media Literacy Skills

While many students learn valuable information about climate change on social media, it’s essential for them to consider whether or not the content they’re consuming was created to stir up controversy, instead of educate.

Students sometimes struggle to tell the difference between fact and fiction on social media and don’t always take a step back to think of ulterior motives the content creator they’re watching may have.

By teaching students to understand how algorithms can manipulate what they see and to consider the motives of content creators, we can help them spot misinformation and avoid being influenced by fabricated or inaccurate information. Even if students are not actively seeking out information on climate change online, it may still be influencing them subtly. 

When your students come across information that they think looks scientific or fact-based, remind them to:

  • Fact-check the content they find online with other credible sources, like scientific studies published in journals or government agencies and organizations
  • Follow influencers and creators who back their claims with trustworthy sources 
  • Report posts and videos that spread misinformation and false news 
  • Look deeper into how their favorite social media apps’ algorithms work

Using Social Media for Good

Social media can be a positive, powerful tool for students to learn about and discuss issues that matter to them, such as climate change. For example, this 18-year-old found her calling to climate change activism because of a video she saw online and connected with other climate activists her age through social media. Regardless of your students’ passions or interests, there is a place for them to connect with like-minded students online. The key to responsibly using social media to spread information on important topics is encouraging students to think twice about the credibility of the content they find online. 

TSI’s Take

There’s truly no place like social media when it comes to giving students a platform to learn and debate topics they’re interested in. As educators, we have the chance to help students become well-informed citizens and find credible info online. Encourage your students to use social media for good and help them find trustworthy influencers to follow. You can spark this conversation by asking your students what their top interests are and challenging them to find credible people who post about those topics online! 

This month, we are highlighting the importance of finding positive and credible influencers who support us and have our backs. In our #WinAtSocial Grade 9 Find Your Influencers Lesson, Evaluating news sources and information in our social media feeds, we help students understand the power of influencers and how to evaluate the content in their feeds. 

Throughout this lesson, students:

  • Examine the limitations of using social media as a news source.
  • Make informed decisions about the content they like or share on social media.
  • Think critically before reacting to clickbait and sensationalist headlines. 

When students think critically about what they see on social media, it can be one of the best places for them to engage in meaningful conversations, find communities of like-minded people, and find infinite resources. Download our 23 Insights for 2023 to discover more ways students are using social media in positive and high-character ways. 

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in understanding student experiences and creator of #WinAtSocial, a gamified, online learning platform that equips students, educators, and families to navigate social experiences — online and offline — in healthy ways. Our unique, student-respected approach incorporates topics like social media, technology use, and current events that have a significant impact on student well-being. Lessons teach life skills for the modern day to inspire high-character decisions that support the health, happiness, and future success of students, while capturing data that provides insights to school leaders to inform school policy and communications, and enable high-impact teaching and a healthy learning environment. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities.