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Elon Musk’s Twitter seeing ‘stark comeback’ of climate crisis denial posts, study warns

Elon Musk’s Twitter seeing ‘stark comeback’ of climate crisis denial posts, study warns

Researchers say there has seen a “surprising increase” in content on Twitter that denies the existence of the climate crisis, with such misinformation flourishing on the platform since it was bought by Tesla chief Elon Musk.

A new report published on Thursday by the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) coalition found that the hashtag “#ClimateScam” suddenly spiked on Twitter in July 2022. By December it had accrued more than 362k mentions (including retweets) from 91k unique users.

It alleges that the term “Climate Scam” is being actively recommended by Twitter for organic searches of “climate”, frequently appearing as the top search result.

While hashtags like “#ClimateCrisis” and “#ClimateEmergency” are seeing more activity and engagement on Twitter, the report says the term “Climate Scam” continues to grow in trends.

With the source of this trend remaining unclear, the report calls for the need for transparency on how and why social media platforms surface content to its users.

The report found that only some of the content under this hashtag was labelled on Twitter as misinformation, and that many popular posts were not.

“It is unclear what role algorithms are playing in this surge. During COP27, our Intelligence Unit noticed that an organic search for the word “climate” on Twitter returned #ClimateScam ahead of two other, ostensibly ‘pro-green’ hashtags,” researchers wrote in the report.

Since the Tesla and SpaceX chief’s takeover of Twitter, content moderation approaches have seen major changes on the platform.

Twitter is reportedy relying more on artificial intelligence to moderate content.

The company’s entire human rights and machine learning ethics teams as well as outsourced contract workers working on safety concerns were all reduced to no staff or a handful of people following mass layoffs in November 2022 when Twitter slashed its workforce from 7,500 to roughly 2,000.

When researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate surveyed accounts verified after Mr Musk’s take over of the company, they found that these accounts spread four times the amount of climate change misinformation compared to those that were verified before the Tesla chief’s purchase of Twitter.

“We could find no comparable trend or uptick in #ClimateScam on other platforms. A basic search for ‘”climate” on Facebook did not autofill with overtly sceptic or denialist terms,” the authors of the report noted.

But the researchers said Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta allowed about 4,000 advertisements with such content on its site – most bought by fossil fuel companies.

These posts, according to the report, dismissed the scientific consensus behind climate change and criticised efforts to respond to it.

Researchers say the surge in such content recommended to users indicates “negligence from Big Tech companies who not only continue to monetize and enable, but in some cases actively recommend, such content to users.”

They hope to conduct a further study on hashtag manipulation to determine whether this is an isolated case, or if the trend is being driven by coordinated, inauthentic behaviour on Twitter.

The authors say the analysis leaves them with “more questions than answers,” and a need for the microblogging platform to “show its working” on how #climatescam has risen to the surface.

“What’s happening in the information ecosystem poses a direct threat to action,” Jennie King, head of climate research and response at the London-based nonprofit Institute for Strategic Dialogue told the Associated Press.

“It plants those seeds of doubt and makes people think maybe there isn’t scientific consensus,” Dr King added.

Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to The Independent’s requests for comment.