An “army of automated Twitter bots” is hijacking the conversation about climate change, generating one-quarter of the tweets on the topic on the average day, The Guardian reports, citing as-yet unpublished research by a team at Brown University.
“The stunning levels of Twitter bot activity on topics related to global heating and the climate crisis is distorting the online discourse to include far more climate science denialism than it would otherwise,” the UK-based paper writes.
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“These findings suggest a substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages about climate change, including support for Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement,” the draft study concludes. Those findings “suggest that bots are not just prevalent, but disproportionately so in topics that were supportive of Trump’s announcement or skeptical of climate science and action.”
The study covered 6.5 million tweets in the days leading up to the former reality TV star’s announcement he was withdrawing the U.S. from the landmark 2015 agreement, and the month following.
“On an average day during the period studied, 25% of all tweets about the climate crisis came from bots,” and “this proportion was higher in certain topics—bots were responsible for 38% of tweets about ‘fake science’ and 28% of all tweets about the petroleum giant Exxon,” The Guardian says. “Conversely, tweets that could be categorized as online activism to support action on the climate crisis featured very few bots, at about 5% prevalence.”
The study didn’t identify any of the individuals or groups behind the automated accounts or determine how much influence they wielded. “However, a number of suspected bots that have consistently disparaged climate science and activists have large numbers of followers on Twitter,” The Guardian states. “One that ranks highly on the Botometer score, @sh_irredeemable, wrote ‘Get lost Greta!’ in December, in reference to the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.” The account has nearly 16,000 followers.
With nearly 52,000 followers, another suspected bot at@petefrt tweeted “Get real, CNN: ‘Climate Change’ dogma is religion, not science” in August, then in November called for abandoning the Paris deal to “reject a future built by globalists and European eco-mandarins”.
“This is one of the most insidious and dangerous elements of misinformation spread by bots—not just that misinformation is convincing to people, but that just the mere existence of misinformation in social networks can cause people to trust accurate information less or disengage from the facts,” said Australian cognitive scientist John Cook, who co-authored research last year on Internet blogs. That study “found that climate misinformation is often spread due to readers’ perception of how widely this opinion is shared by other readers,” The Guardian writes.
“More often than not, they turn out to have all the fingerprints of bots,” said co-author Stephen Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol. “The more denialist trolls are out there, the more likely people will think that there is a diversity of opinion and hence will weaken their support for climate science.”
“Even though we don’t know who they are, or their exact motives, it seems self-evident that Trump thrives on the positive reinforcement he receives from these bots and their makers,” added George Mason University climate communications specialist Ed Maibach.
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