How Twitter became a haven for climate misinformation
"The intention is to create a perception that denial is far more widespread than it actually is," Michael Mann tells us.
Public Notice is entirely supported by readers and funded by paid subscribers. To support our work, please consider becoming one.
On World Meteorological Day in March, the UN Climate Change Twitter account posted an anodyne tweet reminding people that “every bit of additional global warming worsens climate impacts.” But thanks to Elon Musk’s new paid blue checkmark system, the most prominent replies to it are flooded with nonsense like “these commies are doubling down” and calls to “stop globalist fake alarmism.”
This is just one way in which Twitter is rapidly becoming a hellscape for climate scientists who not long ago relied on the platform to spread the word about their work. The degradation of the platform isn’t just anecdotal. A study released in March by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that “fringe climate denialist websites have gained a foothold in online conversation with thousands of daily mentions on Twitter by highly followed climate-denying actors, pundits and outlets.” Additional research from climate expert Ketan Joshi demonstrated how Musk’s takeover coincided with prominent climate deniers gaining Twitter followers, while climate experts lost them.
“A specific change to the algorithm to boost tweets ‘outside’ of one’s political sphere has resulted in far, far more eyeballs on right-wing content,” Joshi writes.
Michael Mann, a climate scientist and distinguished professor of environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania, has been a loud, provocative voice trying to draw attention to what Twitter is becoming.
“Musk, Putin and Saudis intentionally destroyed Twitter. It was the biggest catch-and-kill operation in world history,” he tweeted last month, alluding to Saudi Arabia’s leading role in funding Musk’s Twitter takeover and help he also received from a financier connected to a Russian tycoon.
Mann has also been outspoken about how fossil fuel interests — a group that includes the Russians and Saudis — are getting a hand from Elon Musk in drowning out the voices of climate scientists.
With global average temperatures rapidly approaching levels that were seen as doomsday scenarios just a decade ago, there’s never been a worse time for climate scientists to be muzzled. We connected with Mann to ask him about why Twitter’s transformation into a misinformation machine is especially bad news in the climate space, the irony involved in the Tesla guy becoming a leading agent of climate denalism, and much more.
A transcript of Thor’s conversation with Mann, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
Musk co-founded an electric car company, was involved in a solar power company, and used to say he really cared about climate change. What’s up with him presiding over the spread of climate misinformation on Twitter?
I’m not a psychiatrist, so I can’t say what happened or why, but I think any neutral observer would see it’s clear that something happened. Musk has historically played an important role in electric vehicles and battery technology. It’s almost a tragic arc — a hero becomes the Bond villain.
Obviously, politically he’s moved far to the right. His politics now aligns with a conservative movement that is absolutely antithetical to everything he supposedly was fighting for. There’s no way you can embrace the MAGA political ideology and be a friend to the environment and advocate for climate action, because a fundamental component of it is the rejection of climate change as a problem.
RELATED FROM PN: Is Elon Musk evil or simply a fool?
I know there’s a whole revisionist understanding of Musk that says his role in Tesla was not as great as some think, that he just took it over and did so with a lot of family money. As you dig into it, the hero story doesn’t hold up very well, and it becomes easier to understand how he ended up where he is. He took over Twitter so he could weaponize it. He’s promoting the right-wing, MAGA agenda. And you can’t neglect the fact that it was done with financing from Saudi Arabia and Russia.
They’re the most egregious petro states on the face of the planet. Saudi Arabia and Russia got their money’s worth. What was once a medium for spreading democratizing messages and advocacy for environmental sustainability and climate action has now been weaponized as a cudgel against those things. That’s very convenient for Russia and Saudi Arabia, who for years have been engaged in nefarious activities online, including using social media for their fossil fuel agenda.
With Musk’s purchase of Twitter — financed by them — they’ve achieved their ultimate goal. They’ve weaponized the primary social medium in the world for their fossil fuel, climate denial political agenda.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Public Notice to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.