Climate misinformation plagues Twitter under Elon's watch

Advance Democracy released a report last year determining that “climate scam” tweets skyrocketed by 300 percent

Published January 20, 2023 5:00AM (EST)

Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Climate advocates recently determined a major increase in climate change disinformation circulating Twitter under billionaire Elon Musk's leadership, The Associated Press reports.

Twitter users may be surprised to find that when "climate" is typed in the search bar, "climate scam" is the first recommended phrase to appear. And when "climate scam" is clicked, users will discover tweets filled with language that blatantly denies the reality of climate change.

Nonprofit organization Advance Democracy released a report last year determining that "climate scam" tweets skyrocketed by 300 percent.

The Associated Press reported that climate misinformation has spread increasingly under the billionaire's direction. Unlike disinformation, which the American Psychology Association defines as information that is maliciously and "deliberately intended to mislead" — misinformation is "false or inaccurate information—getting the facts wrong."

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue tracks climate change disinformation in partnership with other environmental advocacy groups, and recently distributed a report that exposes months of social media platforms' failure to vet climate change disinformation.

Head of climate research at the institute, Jennie King, called the effect of this uptick in disinformation "a direct threat to action." She said, "it plants those seeds of doubt and makes people think maybe there isn't scientific consensus."

To King's point, researchers discovered that Meta permitted approximately 4,000 ads that completely ignore any "scientific consensus" around the climate crisis across its website. Additionally, researchers also uncovered evidence that those same accounts sharing false climate information, typically share false election, COVID-19 and vaccination language as well.

Twitter announced that the platform would cease the enforcement of its COVID-19 misinformation policy in November. Subsequently, the spread of misinformation increased.

In the same month, Musk changed Twitter's verification system completely, which formerly confirmed the legitimacy of accounts of public figures. Now, users can simply pay $8 each month to attain verification, which anti-misinformation group Center for Countering Digital Hate asserts is likely a contributing factor to could also be a reason for increased disinformation and misinformation.

The group's chief executive officer Imran Khan said they "found [the new verification system] has in fact put rocket boosters on the spread of lies and disinformation."

As long as anyone has the ability deem themselves a legitimate source of information, disinformation will continue to spread like wildfire.

By Maya Boddie

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