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Twitter sees a surge of denialism claims, as scientists look for an alternative site

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Wion Web DeskUpdated: Dec 03, 2022, 12:20 AM IST
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Photograph:(Reuters)

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There has been a recent reappearance of debunked climate change denialists who have been now regularly using Twitter to post memes and talk their points with the hashtag #ClimateScam so much so that the hashtag has become the first result to appear on searching the term "climate" on the site. This sudden surge of anti-climate tweets has left many scientists and activists unnerved. 

For climate scientists around the world, Twitter was once a platform where they loved to share their research as well as rally support to stop oil pipelines or call out politicians and leaders on their failures to curb pollution. But the scenario seems to have altered as many scientists are now seen leaving Twitter in the wake of the recent increase in climate misinformation posts, threats, and spam. 

There has been a recent reappearance of debunked climate change denialists who have been now regularly using Twitter to post memes and talk their points with the hashtag #ClimateScam so much so that the hashtag has become the first result to appear on searching the term "climate" on the site. This sudden surge of anti-climate tweets has left many scientists and activists unnerved. 

After Elon Musk's recent leadership takeover, Twitter's content management teams were fired, the sustainability arm of the platform was dismantled and bans were lifted on various prominent celebrities with millions following them, like Donald Trump. For some climate experts, the drastic changes the platform has been subjected to have become too much to bear. 

National Snow and Ice Data Centre's scientist Twila Moon had expressed her concerns that if scientists lose their trust in Twitter, the connections established between them could "crumble". “Since Musk’s takeover, I have ramped down my own use of Twitter, using it less both to look for news and to share science. Folks noticing a rise in climate denialism and disinformation is particularly worrying and I am concerned that it could slow climate action in ways that are devastating to economies, communities, and health,” Moon further said.

One of Penn State's prominent climate scientists Michael Mann said that he doesn't plan to leave Twitter immediately, however, he emphasised how climate disinformation has “become a bit more on the nose, with climate deniers who had been deactivated making a reappearance, and climate denial getting somewhat more traction”.

Mann has recently joined Mastodon, which is a new social media site and is seen as Twitter's alternative, and other climate scientists, who have been disappointed by Musk's way of running Twitter, have joined Mann on the alternative platform. 

Rutgers University climate scientist Bob Kopp, who had earlier stated that COVID-19 misinformation "tends to go hand in hand" with tweets of climate denialism, said, “I don’t think I’m getting much value from being on Twitter now, there are more interesting conversations happening at Mastodon." 

Musk, who was earlier appreciated by environmentalists for leading the electric car firm Tesla, recently stated that Twitter “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape”. 

However, climate communications expert at George Mason University Ed Maibach believes that Musk's recent actions reflect “that he is interested in creating a massive, worldwide cage fight. If it comes to that, we’ll take a pass." 

Since July, Twitter has seen a tremendous rise in tweets and posts which are talking about the "climate scam", which is three months before Musk's massive USD44 billion takeover, as per Climate Action Against Disinformation coalition's analysis. The coalition explains how the opaque algorithm of Twitter makes it difficult to understand how this happened. 

Institute for Strategic Dialogue's head of civic action Jennie King explains, "There’s no evidence there are more posts with ‘climate scam’ than ‘climate emergency’ or other terms, or that they are getting more engagement, so it’s a bit perplexing why it’s the top search term, we are scratching our heads at it." 

“I can understand climate scientists saying this is not a productive place for conversations with each other anymore. They’ve become lightening rods for hate speech and death threats, we are seeing a real escalation of threats against them, intended to drive them off the platform," he adds. 

King further emphasised on the "renewed energy" seen on Twitter to spread debunked theories of the climate crisis, especially by accounts with a huge number of followers. One of those accounts is of Canadian psychologist and media personality Peterson, whose account is among those which have been reinstated by Musk after it was banned. After being reinstated, Peterson has been regularly tweeting a dozen tweets related to climate change every single day to his 3.5 million followers. 

He has continued to share false narratives on how carbon dioxide in excess will benefit the world, how efforts being made to curb pollution being caused by cars are threatening the "automotive freedom" and has alleged that climate campaigners intend to “wreak envious and narcissistic havoc”.

“Peterson is a big one because his brand extends beyond the environment but now he’s doubling down on climate. We’ve seen time and again these accounts that espouse climate denial and delay also spread misinformation on other topics, such as electoral fraud, racial politics or reproductive rights," King said. 

Climate scientists now fear that with trends like #ClimateScam, the mainstream social media platforms will now be reigned by conspiracy theorists and others who don't hold expertise on issues of climate change. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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