Algorithms and meaning-making on the environment

Last changed: 07 March 2023

An overview of collective research on how algorithms shape our societal capacity to engage with the ongoing environmental crises.

Algorithms are an essential part of our increasingly digitised lives. For example, as part of search engines or social media platforms, algorithms filter, select and sort information. Just like human communications, algorithms always favour certain perspectives over others, and are not neutral. Instead, they reproduce society through the assumptions built in by developers and the data used to develop and train them. As algorithms are increasingly part of people’s everyday lives, they contribute to how people and societies understand and create meaning on the environment and on how different environmental crises ought to be addressed. Algorithms have implications for societal discourses, norms, and social practices and their environmental connotations.

Most of these are ongoing research projects. Please get in touch if you are interested in details!

Nature Representations in Selfies

Online platforms are an increasingly important way to identify, find out about, and conduct nature experiences. Yet, platforms also shape how people talk about and communicate about nature experiences—for example, through influencer culture, or the desire for social recognition. Thereby, platforms and their user-created content affect public societal ideas about ‘good’ or ‘desirable’ engagements with nature. Selfies taken in nature are one such instance, where the online shapes our understanding of outdoor spaces: nature is presented as a backdrop to individual identity performances, as pristine, tidy, and removed from civilisation.


Algorithmic Ignorances and the Environment

Algorithmic information systems, e.g. commercial search engines or social media, but also citizen science apps, contribute to what we know and how we know it, but also to what is unknown, silenced and invisible. This project examines some of the ways in which such ignorances and absences related to the climate and other environmental crises are created and maintained and places them in a wider theoretical and societal context.

As part of this project, we hosted a public symposium and an academic workshop in October 2022 titled “Networked silences - A symposium about the missing environmental communication on algorithmic platforms.” Information on this can be found here:

Publications in the project

Haider, J., & Rödl, M. (2023). Google Search and the creation of ignorance: The case of the climate crisis. Big Data & Society, 10(1).


Climate Denial by Googling

Climate change denial is not very widespread in Sweden, but how does it appear more popular? Following the traces of appeals to “please google” (“googla gärna”) a specific term, in this project we investigate how climate deniers’ appeals to people to "do their own research" proliferate through online and offline media. These carefully curated terms are meant to sow doubt onto scientific consensus and create the illusion of a much broader support for climate denial in Sweden than there actually is.


Algorithmically Embodied Emissions

The idea of algorithmically embodied emissions is an attempt to conceptualise how the various choices facilitated by algorithmic systems as they are deployed by multi-sided platforms, such as commercial search engines or various social media and recommender systems, contribute to climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. 

Publications in the project

Haider, J., Rödl, M., & Joosse, S. (2022). Algorithmically embodied emissions: The environmental harm of everyday life information in digital culture. Information Research, 27, colis2224.

Popular science summaries on Data & Society: Points and The Conversation.


Fighting Windmills

This project provides an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how (dis/mis)information about sustainable energy initiatives is configured in society's dominant information infrastructures. It examines how information about wind power in Sweden is made visible and invisible on social media and in search engines and how it is related to other issues. It further asks what this means for the public understanding of the problem space configured around the issue of sustainable energy. 

A report has now been published in the project:

The team also includes Elisa Tattersall-Wallin and Björn Ekström, both SSLIS (Swedish School of Library and Information Science).


Investigating Algorithms as Communication participants

This Formas-funded project “Creating meaning on the climate crisis: An investigation of commercial algorithms as communication participants” (2023–2026) examines how Google, Facebook et al contribute to creating meaning on the climate crisis. These algorithmic information systems are invisible but omnipresent communication participants in today´s society. They filter, select and sort information, making decisions about visibility and relevance.

The project examines the increasing importance of online algorithmic information systems, such as commercial search engines and social media, in shaping (pro-)environmental discourses, norms and social practices, and how they thereby create meaning on the climate crisis.


Project Participants

Jutta Haider, Professor in Information Studies, Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Borås, +46334354167
Read more about Jutta Haider on her presentation page
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Malte Rödl, Researcher, Division of Environmental Communication, SLU
Read more about Malte Rödl on his CV-page
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Sofie Joosse, Researcher, Division of Environmental Communication, SLU, +4618671965
Read more about Sofie Joosse on her CV page
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External funding

This research was financially supported by:

Mistra Environmental Communication: Work Package 5
Mistra Environmental Communication: Strategic Reserve
Swedish Research Council Formas ID:2022-01352