The role of social media in shaping public opinion on critical issues such as climate change cannot be underestimated. Twitter, being one of the most popular platforms, has a significant influence on public discourse.
However, since Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter in October 2022, there has been an increase in hostile climate change denial and misinformation on the platform.
Twitter's algorithm changes and Impact on climate change
Climate scientists such as Peter Gleick and Robert Rohde have seen a significant decrease in the impact of their weather-related tweets on Twitter. Likes and retweets have decreased by 38% and 40% respectively, indicating less engagement in climate science content.
Following the Musk takeover, several climate scientists noted a decrease in the impact of his tweets on climate change. Robert Rohde, Principal Scientist at Berkeley Earth, conducted an analysis and found that the average number of likes and retweets received by climate scientists' tweets dropped significantly.
While Twitter hasn't directly commented on the changes made to its algorithms, Musk himself acknowledged a deliberate change to expose users to various viewpoints, even if they may contradict his own beliefs.
The increase in hostility and misinformation on Twitter is a worrying trend for climate scientists. Many researchers have faced insults, personal attacks, and even threats, leading some to abandon the platform altogether.
Noted climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe experienced a substantial increase in hostile comments and apparent trolls or bots targeting her tweets on climate change. Inauthentic accounts, often driven by automated bots, have amplified the spread of misinformation, making it difficult for scientists to communicate climate science effectively.
Twitter's handling of climate change communication has faced criticism from scientists and experts. Some argue that changes to Twitter's algorithm have inadvertently amplified climate change denial and hampered meaningful discussion. Critics believe that exposing users to various viewpoints without proper context or fact-checking can perpetuate misinformation and create echo chambers.
Concerns have been raised about the responsiveness of Twitter's moderation policies in addressing hate speech and abusive behaviour. The rise of racism and sexism on the platform has led some scientists, like Peter Gleick, to disengage from Twitter entirely.
Others have expressed frustration with the platform's failure to effectively curb the spread of climate change denialism and misinformation.
As a widely used social media platform, Twitter has the potential to shape public opinion and influence collective action on climate change. Platform policies and algorithms play an important role in determining which tweets gain visibility and engagement.
Declining impact and increasing hostility and misinformation pose challenges for climate scientists trying to communicate accurate information and engage in meaningful debate with the public.
Concerns over climate disinformation rise
Recent developments on Twitter have raised concerns about promoting climate denialism and delaying key climate talks. Searching for “climate” on the platform this week revealed that the top result was #climatescam, beating out hashtags like #climatecrisis and #climateaction.
The Climate Action Against Misinformation coalition has reported a significant increase in the use of hashtags such as #ClimateScam, "climate scam" or "climate is a scam" on Twitter since July. This increase occurred three months before Elon Musk acquired the platform for $44 billion.
Since then, these terms have garnered more than 500,000 mentions, raising concerns about the proliferation of climate denialism and misinformation on the social media platform.
It is important to note that these trends cannot be directly attributed to Elon Musk's recent acquisition of Twitter. However, it is worth noting that the company has not explicitly changed its policy approach to address climate misinformation.
The firing of the sustainability team, as part of a broader staff reduction, has raised concerns about Twitter's ability to effectively combat climate denialism and misinformation.
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