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'Rocket thrusters' climate misinformation on Musk's Twitter

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Search the word “climate” on Twitter and the first automatic recommendation is not “climate crisis” or “climate jobs” or even “climate change” but rather “climate scam.”

Clicking on the recommendation generates dozens of posts denying the reality of climate change and making misleading claims about efforts to mitigate it.

such misinformation bloomed on twitter since it was bought by Elon Musk last year, but the site is not the only one promoting content that scientists and environmental advocates say undermines public support for policies designed to respond to climate change.

“What’s happening in the information ecosystem poses a direct threat to action,” said Jennie King, head of climate research and response at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based nonprofit. “It plants the seeds of doubt and makes people think that maybe there is no scientific consensus.”

The institute is part of a coalition of environmental advocacy groups that on Thursday released a report tracking misinformation about climate change in the months before, during and after the UN climate summit. in November.

The report blamed social media platforms for, among other things, not enforcing their own policies that prohibit disinformation about climate change.. It’s just the latest to highlight the growing problem of climate misinformation on Twitter.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has allowed nearly 4,000 ads on its website – most bought by fossil fuel companies — which has rejected the scientific consensus behind climate change and criticized efforts to respond to it, the researchers found.

In some cases, ads and posts cited inflation and economic fears as reasons to oppose climate policies, ignoring the costs of inaction. The researchers also found that a significant number of accounts posting false claims about climate change also spread misinformation about the US election, COVID-19 and vaccines.

Twitter did not respond to questions from the Associated Press. A Meta spokesperson cited the company’s policy prohibiting ads that have been proven to be false by its fact-checking partners, a group that includes the AP. Ads identified in the report have not been verified.

Under Musk, Twitter laid off thousands of employees and made changes to its moderation of content that its critics said undermined the effort. In November, the company announced that it would no longer enforce its policy against misinformation about COVID-19. Musk also reinstated many previously banned users., including several who have spread misleading claims about climate change. Hate speech cases and attacks on LGBTQ people went up.

Tweets containing “climate scam” or other terms linked to climate change denial increased by 300% in 2022, according to a report released last week by the non-profit organization Advance Democracy. While Twitter labeled some of the content as misinformation, many of the popular posts were not.

Musk’s New Verification System could be part of the problem, according to a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, another organization that tracks misinformation online. Previously, blue checkmarks were held by people known to the public, such as journalists, government officials, or celebrities.

Now anyone willing to pay $8 a month can order a marquee. Posts and replies from verified accounts receive an automatic boost on the platform, making them more visible than content from non-paying users.

When researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate analyzed accounts verified after Musk took office, they found that they spread four times as much misinformation about climate change compared to users verified before Musk’s purchase.

Verification systems are typically set up to assure users that the accounts they follow are legitimate. Twitter’s new system, however, makes no distinction between authoritative sources on climate change and anyone with $8 and an opinion, according to Imran Khan, the center’s chief executive.

“We found,” Khan said, “that it did indeed fire rockets into the spread of lies and misinformation.”