Back to the force of climate change conspiracy theories in 2022, Elon Musk points the finger

Misinformation about climate change will proliferate online in 2022, according to researchers pointing specifically to the impact of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, which reinstated many banned accounts.

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“What really surprised us this year was the resurgence of language reminiscent of the 1980s: expressions like ‘climate hoax’ and ‘climate scam’, denying the phenomenon of climate change”said Jennie King, who works at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a think tank based in London.

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Among the most popular false claims, which claim that CO2 does not play a role in climate change or that global warming is not caused by human activity, Climate Action Against Disinformation details (CAAD) , a coalition of associations, in a report.

Misinformation spikes on Twitter after Elon Musk takes it over

An analysis of Twitter posts, carried out for AFP by two computer scientists from the City University of London, counted 1.1 million tweets or retweets using climatosceptic terms in 2022.

That’s almost twice as much as in 2021, according to researchers Max Falkenberg and Andrea Baronchelli, who noted that misinformation about climate change peaked in December, a month after the COP27 summit and billionaire Elon’s Twitter takeover Musk.

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The American group Center For Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) pointed to Elon Musk, who restored many banned Twitter accounts and opened the possibility of paying for a certified account.

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“Elon Musk’s decision to open his platform to hate and misinformation has sparked an explosion of climate misinformation on the platform”said Callum Hood, head of research at CCHR.

A quarter of climate-skeptic tweets came from 10 accounts

However, the American billionaire warned in August 2022 of the dangers of global warming, which he described as “great danger”.

Using the hashtag #ClimateScam (“climate fraud”) exploded on Twitter from July 2022, according to CAAD and CCDH analyses. For weeks, it was the most suggested search term on the site for people typing the word. “weather”.

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A quarter of all climate-skeptic tweets come from just 10 accounts, including the leader of Canada’s right-wing populist party Maxime Bernier and Paul Joseph Watson, editor of the conspiracy theory site InfoWars .

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TikTok and YouTube are also concerned

Other social networks are also affected. On TikTok, views of videos using hashtags related to climate change increased by 4.9 million, according to Advance Democracy (ADI).

A search for videos often returns ads for climatosceptic products. Elena Hernandez, a spokeswoman for YouTube, told AFP that the ads were later removed. Asked by AFP, TikTok and Twitter declined to comment.

“Conspiracy is a very effective ideological software”

In contrast, on Facebook, ADI found that the number of such publications decreased compared to 2021. In its report, CAAD identified that climatosceptic content is regularly associated with other misinformation, on fraud elections, vaccination , Covid pandemic, displacement…

“We are certainly seeing the expansion of conspiracy theories. Climate is the new divisive topic in the debate of ideas”underlined Jennie King, of ISD.

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Call to reduce the audience of climatosceptics

Most scientists in the world agree that humanity is warming the planet by burning fossil fuels.

“Human influence has certainly warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”said the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 2021 report, calling for reducing CO2 emissions as much as possible, to avoid the worst consequences of this warming.

“We encourage platforms to think about the real consequences of climate change”insisted Callum Hood, of CCDH. “Those who repeatedly spread blatant climate misinformation should never have the audience they have now”.

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