How Facebook, Twitter have plunged the climate into a culture war: study

A new report finds that climate disinformation has crowded out facts on social media over the past 18 months, outperforming science-based content even when platforms are propaganda.

You might think widespread skepticism about climate change is a thing of the past. This view is broadly supported by a 2021 survey of 1.2 million people in 50 countries by the United Nations Development Programme and Oxford University. The survey found that 64 percent of respondents acknowledged climate change as an emergency and asked policymakers to step up action to address it.

Last year’s UN climate change conference COP26 in Scotland was seen as playing a key role in changing minds and focusing on the crisis.

Former President Donald Trump was still talking about the “global warming hoax” during COP26, where he overturned various laws aimed at tackling the climate crisis during his White House tenure. However, his successor is now rolling back many of those measures. In April, President Joe Biden’s administration reinstated the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50-year-old law that had been rescinded by Trump.

Yet climate change denial isn’t going away: it exists in the corners of social media and on the fringes of public debate.

according to refusal, deceit, delayOutright denialism on mainstream social media platforms has been replaced by narratives on mainstream social media platforms that discredit immediate The need for action aims to make the climate crisis another frontier. culture war.

Photo montage of Facebook login page. The social network’s efforts to curb climate disinformation have fallen short, according to a new report.

The role of social media

Researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) have studied social media over the past 18 months, with a particular focus on the period around COP26, 31 October to 13 November 2021.

They found that Twitter had the highest amount of fake content, while Facebook’s algorithms were more exposed to climate disinformation than its own climate science center. The study also said Facebook’s fact-checking policies remain severely under-enforced.

In April 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that climate disinformation is “a big problem” on the platform. According to the ISD, the Climate Science Center was established to promote science-based information, but it fell short of expectations.

Researchers tracked the Climate Science Centre’s posts during COP26 and found that accounts with a record of climate change denial – including Breitbart London, Spiked Online, Net Zero Watch, GB News and the Heartland Institute – outnumbered and outnumbered Facebook’s Science Center. Frequency of posts (449 to 188 matches for climate-related keywords. These accounts also continue to gain more traction and engagement (~92,000 interactions on average, ~7,500 interactions).

Somehow, these accounts beat Facebook at what was supposed to be the platform’s own game. Facebook’s algorithms also encourage those who believe anti-climate change rhetoric to explore other conspiracy theories, according to a 2022 study by advocacy group Global Witness.

The nonprofit media watchdog group Media Matters reviewed 140 Facebook pages that consistently posted climate- or energy-related misinformation. It identified the 100 most popular posts that received a total of 5.2 million interactions (likes, comments and shares) between September 1, 2021 and April 1, 2022. Only two of those 100 posts were flagged by Facebook as “missing context.”

The top-ranked post came from the page of Christian preacher Franklin Graham and garnered 300,000 interactions. It claims that God controls the climate and is the sole factor in related events or crises, citing Noah’s Ark and the famine in Egypt. The content is not controversial on Facebook.

Weekly newspaper Facebook and Twitter have been contacted for comment.

Who Spreads Climate Disinformation?

Study finds that most climate misinformation and disinformation on Twitter comes from a small number of influential experts, many of whom have scientific or academic backgrounds, who gave them to them when they didn’t think climate change was an emergency credibility. Some of these experts have verified accounts.

According to the ISD, the small but focused group has spread what it calls “delay talk” by undercutting the need for action on climate change or by criticizing it as unfeasible or too expensive.

Part of the group, described in the report as an “extensive contrarian collection” that is said to include Jordan Peterson, is bringing climate change into the culture war, linking it to debates about critical race theory or LGBT+ rights.

The ISD found that between October 25 and November 21 last year, tweets that combined climate change denial with an “anti-awakening” narrative, posted by just 16 accounts, received 507,000 likes and retweets .

in a popular tweet From November 11, author Michael Shellenberger has included climate change, along with racism, gender identity and mental illness, in his “Awakening Religion: A Taxonomy.”

Jennie King, head of climate disinformation at ISD, said: “Our analysis shows that climate disinformation has grown more sophisticated, evolving from outright denial to recognizable ‘delayed speech’ to exploit the gap between recognition and action.

“Governments and social media platforms must understand the new tactics at play and understand the growing intersection of climate disinformation and other harms, including election integrity, public health, hate speech and conspiracy theories.”

Michael Chiu, co-chair of the Friends of the Earth Climate Disinformation Coalition, who contributed U.S. expertise to the report, said: “If all conversations are filled with disinformation, we will not be able to stop climate change.

“Governments must hold social media companies to be transparent and accountable for the harm caused by their products, just as they do with every other industry, from airlines to cars to food processing. We shouldn’t continue this never-ending climate Deny whack-a-mole.”

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