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Twitter has long been a source of misinformation about climate change. On Musk’s watch, things are heating up.

Twitter has long been a source of misinformation about climate change.

According to a study of climate-related conversations shared exclusively with USA TODAY, falsehoods about the warming planet are flying around the social media platform at a breakneck pace under new owner Elon Musk.

The new report echoes recent research that shows an increase in climate misinformation since Musk purchased the company in October.

According to Advance Democracy, a research organisation that studies misinformation, tweets using terms associated with climate denial such as “climate fraud,” “climate hoax,” and “climate scam” more than tripled in 2022, up 300% from 2021.

‘Musk has openly encouraged attacks on mainstream science,’ says one source.

“Musk has openly encouraged attacks on mainstream science with his own posts, has reinstated previously banned anti-science-promoting accounts, and has altered the site algorithm in such a way that leading climate communicators’ reach has been greatly reduced.”

According to John Cook, research fellow at Monash University, preliminary data from the research project CARDS, or Computer Assisted Recognition of Denial and Skepticism, which uses machine learning to detect and categorise claims sceptical of climate science, show that Twitter attacks on climate scientists are escalating.

According to Michelle Amazeen, director of the Communication Research Center at Boston University, bots and critics have driven some climate scientists away from the platform.

According to Daniel Jones, president of Advance Democracy, his research group also discovered increases on TikTok and YouTube.

“Last year, social media companies announced new initiatives to combat the spread of climate change misinformation on their platforms. Despite these efforts, Advance Democracy discovered that “the proliferation of climate change denialist content increased in almost all cases in the past year, and in many cases, dramatically,” Jones told USA TODAY.

Climate scientists are concerned about a surge in misinformation.
Climate change is one of the most contentious issues being discussed on social media.

According to scientists, human activities that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases are primarily to blame for global warming. Higher sea levels, drought, wildfires, increased precipitation, and wetter hurricanes are among the consequences.

Deniers of climate science use social media to undermine the overwhelming evidence of human involvement in climate change. According to Amazeen, “sensational, controversial, emotionally evocative content” outperforms scientific findings on most platforms.

Climate scientists have long urged social media companies to identify and remove posts and videos that deny climate change, dispute its causes, or minimise its effects. Despite company policies that require the identification of content that denies climate change, social media posts frequently lack warning labels or links to credible information.

Cook expresses concern that the rapid spread of climate misinformation will further erode public understanding of climate change as well as public trust in science and scientists.

How climate change became so divisive on Twitter

The increase in climate denial content on Twitter began in July, when President Joe Biden announced plans to combat climate change through executive actions, according to Advance Democracy. During a United Nations climate conference in November, the number of tweets containing climate-change denial terms skyrocketed.

According to Advance Democracy, three of the ten most-retweeted English-language Twitter posts mentioning climate change either deny the existence of climate change or suggest that it is a media-driven narrative.

Though Twitter’s policy on climate change misinformation has not changed under Musk’s ownership, tweets rejecting climate change science have increased sharply, according to research conducted for The Times newspaper by City, University of London.

According to researchers Max Falkenberg and Andrea Baronchelli, the hashtag “climate scam” accounts for 40% of tweets containing climate-skeptic language, up from 2% before 2022.

Musk fired the sustainability team working on the @TwitterEarth account, which was launched in November as “the voice of COP27” before the United Nations climate conference began.

“Climate denial on Twitter was already a dumpster fire; now it’s like someone poured a litre of gas on it,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told The Times.

Climate change denial and YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook

According to Advance Democracy, one out of every ten YouTube searches for phrases related to climate change denial resulted in an informational panel with scientific facts about climate change.

When researchers searched YouTube for four common climate change denial phrases, they discovered climate denial ads, including one that denied the role of human activity in climate change.

According to YouTube, the climate change information panel, which provides context about climate change from third-party sources, is now at the top of search results for those queries.

“We also removed a number of the ads discussed in the report, in accordance with our ads and monetization policies on climate change denial,” said YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez in a statement.

The study discovered that videos using seven hashtags associated with climate change denial were viewed at least 4.9 million times more in 2022 than the previous year on TikTok.

According to Advance Democracy, none of the hashtag searches were flagged as potential sources of misinformation.

After USA TODAY contacted TikTok for comment, three of the hashtags were removed.

Posts on Facebook containing terms associated with climate change denial have decreased by 14%. However, none of the most popular posts denying or downplaying the risks of climate change, according to Advance Democracy, were linked to Facebook’s Climate Science Information Center.

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