By Nikhil Sabnis, Age 10
After Elon Musk purchased Twitter in October 2022, climate misinformation began spreading like wildfire on the platform–pun intended! Climate misinformation and disinformation create distrust of scientific evidence, confuse the public about the reality of climate change, and create apathy toward climate activism.
Musk has fired 4,000 Twitter employees since taking over the company, many of whom monitored posts containing false information. Tweets containing the hashtag “#climatescam” or other terms linked to climate change denialism rose 300% in 2022, according to the nonprofit Advance Democracy.
The prevalence of climate misinformation on Twitter is extremely concerning due to the sheer number of users on the platform. In 2022, there were over 368 million regular Twitter users. Amongst its U.S. users, 69% get their news from Twitter, according to the Pew Research Center, providing a vast environment to spread false climate claims.
“[Misinformation] plants those seeds of doubt and makes people think maybe there isn’t scientific consensus,” explains Jennie King, head of climate research and response at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, in an interview with the Associated Press (AP). “What’s happening in the information ecosystem poses a direct threat to action.”
Denialist tweets and misinformation cause confusion and distrust of climate facts, which can ultimately sway support against climate change and lead to inaction. It’s important to remember that politicians are people, too, and more often than not, they aren’t scientists! The confusion over what is true and what isn’t can ultimately result in politicians failing to enact policies that work to protect our environment. The damaging consequences of misinformation could be irreversible, whereby our planet could become uninhabitable.
Fossil fuel companies have been central to the spread of climate misinformation through social media outlets. Meta, the company that owns both Facebook and Instagram, allowed nearly 4,000 advertisements in 2022—mostly bought by fossil fuel companies—which disregarded the scientific evidence of climate change and denounced actions to respond, according to AP. A 2021 report by Stop Funding Heat found that posts containing climate misinformation on Facebook received an average of 1.36 million views every day.
Despite the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to stop climate activism and the growth of renewable energy, scientists, advocates and activists remain undeterred from their mission. At 3 p.m. on May 13, 2022, the entire state of California ran on renewable energy, according to NPR, and slowly but surely, our ozone layer is beginning to recover.
However, the need for collective action against climate change is still great. Greenhouse gases are at their highest in 2 million years. Temperatures were the hottest on record in the last decade, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Recent wildfires, droughts and the growing number of natural disasters have made it more difficult to refute the undeniable truth of climate change.
What can I do to stop the spread of climate misinformation?
When scrolling social media, it is important to be mindful of the content you are viewing, and there are steps we can take to try and avoid sharing climate misinformation. Before you hit the “share” button, pause a second and consider: Is this person an expert? Do they have published scientific research on this topic? A simple Google search can answer this! Are other trusted news sources reporting on this information? Do some fact-checking on sites like Climate Feedback or Snopes. If you suspect a post may be misinformation, report it. Remember, misinformation is false information that has been spread accidentally. Taking these steps could prevent this from happening.
Disinformation: Information that is intentionally false and is deliberately shared to deceive or mislead people
Misinformation: False or irrelevant information that is presented as a fact and often unintentionally shared
Apathy: Lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern
Refute: Prove (a statement or theory) to be wrong or false; disprove