Twitter Bots Have Substantial Impact On Spreading Climate Misinformation

Twitter Bots Have Substantial Impact On Spreading Climate Misinformation

"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." (Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

A quarter of climate-related tweets in the studied period—around when Trump announced plans to ditch the Paris agreement—came from bots.

A new analysis of 6.5 million tweets from the days before and after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to ditch the Paris agreement in June 2017 suggests that automated Twitter bots are substantially contributing to the spread of online misinformation about the climate crisis.

Brown University researchers "found that bots tended to applaud the president for his actions and spread misinformation about the science," according to the Guardian, which first reported on the draft study Friday. "Bots are a type of software that can be directed to autonomously tweet, retweet, like, or direct message on Twitter, under the guise of a human-fronted account."

As the Guardian summarized:

On an average day during the period studied, 25% of all tweets about the climate crisis came from bots. 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.

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 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 analysis states.

More broadly, the study adds, "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."

Thomas Marlow, the Brown Ph.D. candidate who led the study, told the Guardian that his team decided to conduct the research because they were "always kind of wondering why there's persistent levels of denial about something that the science is more or less settled on." Marlow expressed surprise that a full quarter of climate-related tweets were from bots. "I was like, 'Wow that seems really high,'" he said.

In response to the Guardian report, some climate action advocacy groups reassured followers that their tweets are written by humans:

Other climate organizations that shared the Guardian's report on Twitter weren't surprised by the results of the new research:

"The Brown University study wasn't able to identify any individuals or groups behind the battalion of Twitter bots, nor ascertain the level of influence they have had around the often fraught climate debate," the Guardian noted. "However, a number of suspected bots that have consistently disparaged climate science and activists have large numbers of followers on Twitter."

Cognitive scientist John Cook, who has studied online climate misinformation, told the Guardian that bots are "dangerous and potentially influential" because previous research has shown "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."

As Cook, a research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, put it: "This is one of the most insidious and dangerous elements of misinformation spread by bots."

Naomi Oreskes is a Harvard University professor and science historian who also has studied climate misinformation, including an October 2019 report (pdf) co-authored by Cook about the fossil fuel industry's decades of efforts to mislead the American public. In a tweet Friday, Oreskes called the new research "important work" but added "I wish they'd published it before going to the media."

The Guardian report on Marlow and his colleagues' analysis came just a few months after the Trump administration formally began the one-year process of withdrawing from the Paris accord, which critics said sent "a signal to the world that there will be no leadership from the U.S. federal government on the climate crisis—a catastrophic message in a moment of great urgency."

The findings also came about a month after the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists issued a historic warning about the risk of global catastrophe by setting the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight. The bulletin warned in its statement announcing the clock's new time that "humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society's ability to respond."

"Focused attention is needed to prevent information technology from undermining public trust in political institutions, in the media, and in the existence of objective reality itself," the bulletin added. "Cyber-enabled information warfare is a threat to the common good. Deception campaigns—and leaders intent on blurring the line between fact and politically motivated fantasy—are a profound threat to effective democracies, reducing their ability to address nuclear weapons, climate change, and other existential dangers."

About The Author

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

This article originally appeared on Common Dreams

Related Books

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know

by Joseph Romm
0190866101The essential primer on what will be the defining issue of our time, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is a clear-eyed overview of the science, conflicts, and implications of our warming planet. From Joseph Romm, Chief Science Advisor for National Geographic's Years of Living Dangerously series and one of Rolling Stone's "100 people who are changing America," Climate Change offers user-friendly, scientifically rigorous answers to the most difficult (and commonly politicized) questions surrounding what climatologist Lonnie Thompson has deemed "a clear and present danger to civilization.". Available On Amazon

Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future second edition Edition

by Jason Smerdon
0231172834This second edition of Climate Change is an accessible and comprehensive guide to the science behind global warming. Exquisitely illustrated, the text is geared toward students at a variety of levels. Edmond A. Mathez and Jason E. Smerdon provide a broad, informative introduction to the science that underlies our understanding of the climate system and the effects of human activity on the warming of our planet.Mathez and Smerdon describe the roles that the atmosphere and ocean play in our climate, introduce the concept of radiation balance, and explain climate changes that occurred in the past. They also detail the human activities that influence the climate, such as greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions and deforestation, as well as the effects of natural phenomena.  Available On Amazon

The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course

by Blair Lee, Alina Bachmann
194747300XThe Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course uses text and eighteen hands-on activities to explain and teach the science of global warming and climate change, how humans are responsible, and what can be done to slow or stop the rate of global warming and climate change. This book is a complete, comprehensive guide to an essential environmental topic. Subjects covered in this book include: how molecules transfer energy from the sun to warm the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect, global warming, the Industrial Revolution, the combustion reaction, feedback loops, the relationship between weather and climate, climate change, carbon sinks, extinction, carbon footprint, recycling, and alternative energy. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

EVIDENCE

Polar Ice Melt Raises Sea Level Dangers
Polar Ice Melt Raises Sea Level Dangers
by Tim Radford
Greenland’s polar ice is now melting far faster than 30 years ago, Antarctic ice is retreating at an accelerating rate,…
We Climate Scientists Won't Know Exactly How The Crisis Will Unfold Until It’s Too Late
We Climate Scientists Won't Know Exactly How The Crisis Will Unfold Until It’s Too Late
by Wolfgang Knorr and Will Steffen
When we hold on to things for too long, change can come about abruptly and even catastrophically.
It's Official: The Last Five Years Were The Warmest Ever Recorded
It's Official: The Last Five Years Were The Warmest Ever Recorded
by Blair Trewin and Pep Canadell
The World Meteorological Organisation today published a definitive climate report card showing concentrations of…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
Record-Breaking Warm Weather Expected Around Globe
Record-Breaking Warm Weather Expected Around The World
by Julia Conley
The world's top meteorological experts issued the warning as cities and countries around the world reported…
Weather Bureau Says Hottest, Driest Year On Record Led To Extreme Bushfire Season
Weather Bureau Says Hottest, Driest Year On Record Led To Extreme Bushfire Season
by David Jones, et al
The Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement released today confirms 2019 was the nation’s warmest and driest…
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Twitter Bots Have Substantial Impact On Spreading Climate Misinformation
Twitter Bots Have Substantial Impact On Spreading Climate Misinformation
by Jessica Corbett
A quarter of climate-related tweets in the studied period—around when Trump announced plans to ditch the Paris…

LATEST VIDEOS

To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…
Majority of US Adults Believe Climate Change Is Most Important Issue Today
by American Psychological Association
As the effects of climate change become more evident, more than half of U.S. adults (56%) say climate change is the…
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…
Investing In Climate Change
by Goldman Sachs
“Top of Mind at Goldman Sachs” Podcast – In this episode, we dig into what may be the most important issue of our time:…
Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa
by SABC Digital News
Climate change affects us all, but it can be a confusing business. Three leading South African scientists who have…

LATEST ARTICLES

How Plants And Animals Share Response To Climate Change
How Plants And Animals Share Response To Climate Change
by Daniel Stolte
Plants and animals are remarkably similar in their responses to changing environmental conditions across the globe,…
Why Poorer Suburbs Are More At Risk In Warming Cities
Why Poorer Suburbs Are More At Risk In Warming Cities
by Jason Byrne and Tony Matthews
The many reasons for this include urban densification policies, climate change and social trends such as bigger houses…
Why A Better World Needs Better Economics
Why A Better World Needs Better Economics
by David Korten
Science warns us that the 2020s will be humanity’s last opportunity to save itself from a climate catastrophe.
A Second Us Dust Bowl Would Hit World Food Stocks
A Second Us Dust Bowl Would Hit World Food Stocks
by Tim Radford
When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.
Rising Seas: To Keep Humans Safe, Let Nature Shape The Coast
Rising Seas: To Keep Humans Safe, Let Nature Shape The Coast
by Iris Möller
Even under the most conservative climate change scenarios, sea levels 30cm higher than at present seem all but certain…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Huge Ecosystems Could Collapse In Less Than 50 Years
Huge Ecosystems Could Collapse In Less Than 50 Years
by John Dearing et al
We know that ecosystems under stress can reach a point where they rapidly collapse into something very different.
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
by Nivedita Khandekar
With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last…