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Climate scientists flee Twitter as hostility surges

As angry climate-change denialism grows on Twitter following Elon Musk’s takeover, scientists are quitting the platform for alternative social networks.

Since the Tesla billionaire took control in October 2022, researchers have observed a rise of hate and disinformation on Twitter and now experts believe communicating about climate science on the social network on which many of them rely is becoming more difficult.

Policies aimed at mitigating the devastating effects of climate change are accelerating, provoking an increase in what scientists call organized opposition to climate policy.

On May 21, Peter Gleick, a climate and water expert with roughly 99,000 followers, declared that he would no longer publish on the platform because it was increasing bigotry and misogyny.

While he is used to “offensive, personal, ad hominem attacks, up to and including direct physical threats,” he told AFP, “The amount, vituperative Ness, and intensity of abuse has skyrocketed in the last few months, since the takeover and changes at Twitter.”

Climate tweets are on the decline.

Before and after the takeover, Robert Rohde, a physicist and chief scientist at the non-profit environmental data analysis company Berkeley Earth, examined activity on hundreds of accounts of well-following professionals writing about climate science.

He discovered that climate experts’ tweets were losing traction. The average number of likes was down 38%, while the average number of retweets was down 40%.

Twitter hasn’t said anything about the modifications it’s made to the algorithms that drive traffic and visibility.

When contacted by email for a response, its press staff responded with its now-standard automated email with a “poop” emoji.

Musk, on the other hand, said in January in a tweet regarded as an indication of an intentional shift: “People on the right should see more ‘left-wing’ stuff, and people on the left should see more ‘right-wing’ stuff.” But if you want to stay in an echo chamber, simply block it.”

Bots that deny climate change
In another study, noted meteorologist Katharine Hayhoe tracked responses to a tweet about climate change that she published twice as an experiment, before and after the takeover.

She counted the angry comments and looked for indicators that they were posted by bots, which are artificial accounts that academics think is spreading misinformation.

Analysis tools like Bot Sentinel can detect fraudulent accounts.

Hayhoe tweeted in January 2023 that responses from apparent trolls or bots climbed 15 to 30 times over a two-month period compared to the preceding two years.

“Prior to October, my account was steadily growing at a rate of at least several thousand new followers per month.” “It hasn’t changed since then,” she told AFP.

Scientists are abandoning Twitter.

Andrew Dessler, an atmospheric sciences professor at Texas A&M University, said he was shifting the majority of his climate communication to Substack, a newsletter platform.

“Climate communications on Twitter are less useful (now), given that I can see that my tweets are getting less engagement,” he said.

“In response to almost any tweet about climate change, my notifications are inundated with replies from verified accounts making false or misleading claims.”

Others have completely abandoned Twitter.

Hayhoe stated that 100 of the 3,000 climate scientists on her Twitter list vanished after the takeover.

Ruth Mottram had over 10,000 Twitter followers before leaving in February to join an alternative scientists’ forum powered by Mastodon, a crowdfunded, decentralized collection of social networks created in 2016.

“In many ways, it’s been a revelation.” “It’s a much quieter and more thoughtful platform,” she told AFP.

“I haven’t received any abuse or even people questioning climate change on Mastodon.” On Twitter, I believe we’d grown way too accustomed to it… “I had blocked a lot of accounts on the bird site (Twitter),” she explained.

Campaign ‘Organized’

Michael Mann, a famous climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and a frequent target of climate change denialists, said he believed the spike in misinformation was “organized and orchestrated” by opponents of climate legislation.

“I’ve noticed a significant increase in trolls and bots.” “Many people are attacking my tweets,” he stated.

Mann’s 2021 book “The New Climate War” highlighted oil companies’ efforts to propagate climate scepticism on social media.

“The professional trolls manipulate the online environment with strategic posts that generate conflict and division, leading to a feeding frenzy,” he explained to AFP.

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