How you can help to keep Climate misinformation on Twitter in check

This is a guest article written by Yann, a biologist with a special interest in climate change and bats. During his free time, he is a climate activist namely with Scientists For Future. You can find and connect with him on Twitter at @Bat_Yann.

Discovering climate trolls and bots

This blog post provides information about climate change misinformation, specifically on Twitter. I have been using the Twitter social media since July 2011 to communicate with the public about my interest in bats. Following my discovery of the importance of climate change awareness, I joined Scientists For Future - a group of scientists who support the climate activists of Fridays For Future. Since then, I have been engaging regularly about climate change on Twitter. I have discovered (to my concern) a high level of false information about climate change being spread there by both people (trolls) and bots (trollbots). The tweets of climate researchers and climate activists are very often the targets of such misleading disinformation. In this blog post, I want to give you an introduction to the world of climate trolls and bots on Twitter and how YOU can help stop their damaging activities.


The diversity of trolls and bots

Those who spread climate disinformation on Twitter fall into two categories: public profiles and anonymous accounts. Many public individuals and organisations involved in the climate change denial industry are listed in the DesmogBlog research database or on SourceWatch. Alongside these public profiles, many accounts which spread misinformation are anonymous (fake profiles). A common way to tell such accounts apart is in their profile name, which often consists of a word followed by a series of random numbers, or an unusual handle such as ‘ClimateChangeIzFake’ and so forth. Furthermore, such accounts are usually non-personalised: they have little to no personalization (i.e. a blankbanner and bio). Another hint that an account may be a fake is that it is relatively new (a month or so old) but has already posted several hundred (or thousand!) tweets. NOTE: if a month-old account has posted thousands of tweets, it is VERY likely automated (ie. a bot).  Last, but not least, old forgotten accounts created by other people can be hacked and given “a new life” by the trolls.

The free browser extension from @botsentinel is a very useful tool that checks how a given account is engaging, comparing behavior to what might violate Twitter rules. You can use it to determine if an account is potentially spreading disinformation (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Screenshot from the website botsentinel. Twitter accounts are automatically analysed and their activity is categorised as “Normal”, “Questionable”, “Disruptive” or “Problematic”.

The behavior of trolls and bots

Scrolling through the replies of accounts from climate activists and climate researchers, you will discover a wide variety of tactics employed by trolls and bots to disrupt useful discussion:

To learn more about the misleading techniques of science denial, the Cranky Uncle website and the book Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change by John Cook are a great place to start.  You can also find this initiative of The School of Thought with a list of such commonly-used fallacies to familiarize yourself with.

How to counter trolls and bots

To learn more about climate trolls and bots, you should definitely follow @GeraldKutney@ScienceNotDogma and @MichaelEMann on Twitter. In particular, you should follow the many friends of #climatebrawl, a community brought together by Gerald Kutney, to counter misinformation about climate change on Twitter. Other useful tags for learning about trolls are #ClimateTip (for climate-specific trolls), #TT_Tip (common troll examples) and #TrollTactics (as the name implies: examples of such).

You can adopt different strategies when dealing with climate trolls and bots on Twitter.

First, you can block (permanently ignore) or mute (they can still see your tweets!) specific accounts. You can also mute specific conversations where trolls/bots get too annoying. This is especially relevant in the case of  “climate dismissives”, as defined by Professor Katharine Hayhoe in a tweet:

“My personal definition of a dismissive is someone who, if an angel from God with brand-new tablets of stone reading "Global Warming Is Real" in foot-high letters of flame appeared to them, would not change their minds. So why would 10000 scientific studies do so? They won't.“

Such trolls, who will argue against man-made climate change while they suffer dangerous heatstroke and water rising around their ankles, should be ignored.

As a complement to blocking and muting, you can also engage in various ways:

Figure 2. Screenshot from the Fake Followers Audit of one of the most influential climate change deniers of our times (25th October 2020). The Audit estimates that the account has 70.2% of fake followers.

As well, you can check the credibility of a source of information you do not yet know via these reputable sites: Media Bias/Fact Check, SourceWatchAd Fontes Media or FactCheck. These sites will tell you if a source is biased or lacks factual accuracy in its content.

One very important action to counter the misinformation for silent readers is to share the full, accurate facts to counter any misinformation spread by trolls and bots. The list of myths listed here on Skeptical Science is a good place to look for resources based on the scientific literature.

To counter the current ‘infodemic’ of false information about vital issues, Twitter has recently updated their approach to the problem with labels and warnings. Such actions have been especially visible in the context of COVID-19 and the current presidential elections in the U.S.A. Now that we know that it is technically possible, we can (hopefully) expect Twitter to act on false information about climate change soon. We have already lost too much time in acting effectively on the climate crisis due to fossil fuel companies like Exxon that knew about the problem but still misled the public. Before Twitter acts responsibly on the problem, we can all do our bit to spread facts about climate change on Twitter and social media in general.

Posted by Guest Author on Monday, 2 November, 2020

Creative Commons License The Skeptical Science website by Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.