For better or worse, Twitter has long served as a public forum that provided a space for scientists and activists to expose their peers to new research, political action, and independent journalism. As misinformation and spam run rampant on the platform, professionals are reconsidering their relationship with the website.
Climate scientists have recently vocalized concern over the resurgence of debunked climate change denial talking points on Twitter, as the trend #ClimateScam has become the first suggested result when searching “climate” on the website.
Under the newfound leadership of Elon Musk, Twitter has seen a spike in misinformation and hate speech. Since Musk fired the majority of content moderators, major advertisers have threatened to leave the platform, with Apple warning that they are considering removing the app from their app store.
Twila Moon, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said that the consequences for the scientific community will be astronomical if Twitter collapses.
“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," she told The Guardian. “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."
According to Ed Maibach, an expert in climate communications at George Mason University, Twitter “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hell scape" if the platform is to continue running properly, yet Musk's terms of service have allowed rampant misinformation.
“[Musk] is interested in creating a massive, worldwide cage fight. If it comes to that, we’ll take a pass," Maibach said.
Following the uptick in “climate scam” or “climate is a scam” searches, Maibach also added that many climate researchers are currently deciding whether or not to continue use of the platform. Data gathered by the Climate Action Against Disinformation coalition found that alike terms have been used over 500,000 times since Musk's takeover.
Jennie King, head of civic action at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which is part of the coalition, shared that there has been a “renewed energy” to spread climate disinformation.
“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,” she said.
King added that high profile users have also ignited vitriol on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, some of them funded by the fossil-fuel industry. A study from British and Italian researchers found that conservative "contrarianism" online increased four times during COP world climate conferences, leading to polarization via social media.
“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. ... I can understand climate scientists saying this is not a productive place for conversations with each other anymore," King said. "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.”