You would think that a guy touted for his vision and action for a sustainable energy future in the face of the climate crisis would show some of those smarts he’s often credited with to, at the very least, constrain climate science rejectors on Twitter, which he made a huge mistake, financial and otherwise, in buying. But David Klepper at the Associated Press points out this morning that since Elon Musk took over the platform, “misinformation” about the climate crisis has flourished.
Tweets containing “climate scam” or other terms linked to climate change denial rose 300% in 2022, according to a report released last week by the nonprofit Advance Democracy. While Twitter had labeled some of the content as misinformation, many of the popular posts were not labeled.
“Misinformation” sanitizes what’s really going on. “Misinformation” is mistaken, “disinformation” is intentional, designed with purpose. That is not a distinction without a difference.
The intentional spread of lies about climate has been going on ever since Exxon’s own scientists concluded in the 1970s with considerable accuracy that continuing the extraction and burning of fossil fuels would boost the burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, resulting in global warming. In the face of this conclusion, as investigative reporters and researchers have revealed, the company’s executives spent the next few decades lying and paying others to lie about what they knew to be true.
Their campaign of disinformation undermined both proposed and actual efforts to prevent or mitigate the disastrous impacts of this human-caused climate change. Although the biggest players no longer try to persuade us that the climate crisis is a hoax or scam, they are still disinforming, with the more recent efforts devoted to telling us they’re the greenest entities on the planet while they continue to fund new projects for extracting every last drop of oil and molecule of natural gas.
At Twitter, various changes instituted by Musk—including letting anyone paying $8 a month for a “verified” account supposedly attesting to the user’s bona fides—have contributed to what Imran Khan, executive director of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, says “has in fact put rocket boosters on the spread of lies and disinformation.” The center found that climate lies in verified accounts have risen fourfold since Musk bought the platform.
Unsurprisingly, Twitter did not respond to Klepper’s request for comment. But Twitter isn’t the only platform on which climate science propagandists thrive.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, allowed nearly 4,000 advertisements on its site — most bought by fossil fuel companies — that dismissed the scientific consensus behind climate change and criticized efforts to respond to it, the researchers found.
Letting random users and likely industry shills repeat climate lies is bad enough, but making money from offering a platform for the industry itself to keep up its decades-long flow of propaganda is another demonstration of how the unfettered pursuit of profit puts us and all our companion species in grave peril.