Twitter has always been a hotspot climate change disinformation.
Under new owner Elon Musk, falsehoods about the warming planet are roam the social media platform at a sizzling pace. according to a study of climate-related conversations shared exclusively with USA TODAY.
The new report echoes recent research showing that there has been a wave of climate disinformation since Musk acquired the company in October.
Tweets with terms related to climate denial such as “climate fraud,” “climate hoax” and “climate scam” will more than triple by 2022, a 300% increase from 2021, according to Advance Democracy, a research organization that studies misinformation.
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The most shared tweets were not labeled, despite Twitter’s policy of doing so, the review found.
Twitter’s media relations department, which was wiped off the map after Musk bought the social media platform, did not respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
‘Musk has openly encouraged attacks on mainstream science’
“Musk has openly encouraged attacks on mainstream science with his own posts, brought back previously banned anti-science-promoting accounts, and changed the site’s algorithm in a way that severely limits the reach of leading climate communicators,” Michael Mann, director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability & the Media at the University of Pennsylvania, told USA TODAY.
Preliminary data collected by the research project CARDS, or Computer Assisted Recognition of Denial and Skepticism, which uses machine learning to detect and categorize claims skeptical of climate science, shows that Twitter attacks on climate scientists are on the riseaccording to John Cook, research fellow at Monash University.
Those attacks from bots and critics have driven some climate scientists off the platform, said Michelle Amazeen, director of the Communication Research Center at Boston University.
Daniel Jones, president of Advance Democracy, says his research group also found increases on TikTok and YouTube.
“Last year, social media companies announced additional steps to combat the spread of climate change misinformation on their platforms. Despite these steps, Advance Democracy found that in almost all cases the proliferation of climate deniers has increased over the past year, and in many cases dramatically,” Jones told USA TODAY.
Misinformation peak alarms climate scientists
Climate change is one of the most controversial debates raging on social media.
Scientists say the global warming is mainly caused by human activities that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The impacts include higher sea levels, drought, forest fires, increased precipitation and wetter hurricanes.
Climate science deniers use social media to undermine the overwhelming evidence of human involvement in climate change. “Sensational, controversial, emotionally evocative content” surpasses scientific findings on most platforms, Amazeen said.
For years, climate scientists have been urging social media companies to identify and remove posts and videos that deny climate change, dispute its causes, or underestimate its impacts. Despite the company’s policy to flag content that denies climate change, social media posts often lack warning labels or links to credible information.
Cook says he is afraid of the ever more rapid spread of climate disinformation will further erode public understanding of climate change and public trust in science and scientists.
How climate change got so hot on Twitter
The proliferation of climate denial content on Twitter began in July when President Joe Biden unveiled plans to fight climate change with executive actions, thought Advance Democracy. The number of tweets with climate change denial terms exploded in November during a United Nations climate conference.
According to Advance Democracy, three of the 10 most retweeted English-language Twitter posts mentioning climate change suggest either that climate change doesn’t exist or that it’s a story pushed by the media.
While Twitter has not changed its policy on climate change misinformation under Musk’s ownership, tweets decrying science on climate change have surgedaccording to research from City, University of London conducted for The Times newspaper.
Much of that increase is linked to the “climate scam” hashtag, which accounts for about 40% of tweets containing climate skeptical language, compared to 2% before 2022, researchers Max Falkenberg and Andrea Baronchelli found.
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Musk fired the sustainability team working on a Twitter account, @TwitterEarth, which launched in November as “the voice of COP27” before the UN climate conference began.
“Climate denial on Twitter was already a dumpster; now it’s like a liter of petrol has been poured on it,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told The Times.
YouTube, TikTok and Facebook and climate change denial
YouTube: One in 10 searches for phrases related to climate change denial had an information panel containing scientific facts about climate change, according to Advance Democracy.
When searching for four common climate change denial phrases, YouTube showed climate denial ads, including a video denying the role of human activity in climate change, the study found.
YouTube says the climate change information panel that provides context about climate change from outside sources now appears at the top of search results for those searches.
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“In addition, we have removed some of the ads discussed in the report, consistent with our climate change denial advertising and monetization policies,” YouTube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said in a statement.
TikTok: Videos with seven hashtags related to climate change denial were viewed at least 4.9 million times more in 2022 than in the previous year, the study found.
None of the hashtag searches were labeled as potential sources of misinformation, Advance Democracy said.
Three of the hashtags were removed after USA TODAY asked TikTok for comment.
Facebook: Posts containing terms related to climate change denial decreased by 14%. But, Advance Democracy said, none of the most popular posts denying or downplaying the risks of climate change are linked to Facebook’s Climate Science Information Center.