Elon Musk’s Take on Twitter Raises Fears of Growing Climate Misinformation

Climate opponents seeking to block action and “greenwashing” companies could gain momentum on Twitter after Elon Musk’s takeover, analysts have warned as leaders push for efforts to combat warming at the COP27 summit.

The Tesla billionaire and self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist has fired thousands of workers — with sustainability executives Sean Boyle and Casey Junod among those who walked off stage last week.

Musk promised to loosen Twitter’s content restrictions and after taking over announced plans to create a “content moderation council” to review policies.

“It is not clear what exactly Mr. Musk plans to do. However … if he removes all efforts to moderate content, we can expect an increase in disinformation, and an increase in misleading and greenwashed ads,” said Naomi Oreskes, a professor. of the history of science at Harvard University who has commissioned major studies on climate misinformation.

“Greenwashing” refers to companies that mislead the public about their impact on the world through messaging and token gestures.

“We may also see an increase in hate speech directed at climate scientists and advocates, especially women,” Oreskes said.

After the purchase, one weather reporter tweeted that he had received death threats at the stadium. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sustainability is excluded

Researchers and campaigners say that despite measures announced by social media, climate disinformation is thriving, undermining belief in climate change and the action needed to combat it.

Twitter and other tech giants such as Facebook and Google have said they are making false claims invisible.

But the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think tank said in a detailed study this year that messages aimed at “denial, manipulation and delay” about climate action were prevalent on social media.

Under Twitter’s policy before the takeover, it said “misleading ads on Twitter that contradict the scientific consensus on climate change are prohibited”.

“We believe that climate opposition should not be monetized on Twitter, and that negative ads should not interfere with important conversations about the climate crisis,” Boyle and Junod wrote in an Earth Day post on the Twitter blog.

Both posted messages on November 4 with the hashtag “LoveWhereYouWorked”, indicating they were among those laid off after Musk took $44-million (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore). They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Scientists are vulnerable

Despite the misinformation, some experts have warned that climate scientists themselves face threats if moderation is reduced.

The rise in hate speech prompted Twitter’s head of security and integrity Yoel Roth to respond, trying to calm concerns. He tweeted that “important balancing skills are always there”.

Musk wrote on November 4 that “Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains unchanged.”

“I’m concerned that science fiction will gain a greater platform on Twitter under Musk’s leadership,” said Genevieve Guenther, founder of the media activist group End Climate Silence.

“But I am very concerned that the website will begin to discredit climate scientists and advocates who criticize right-wing views, preventing them from communicating with decision-makers in the media and government.”

COP green markers?

Among Musk’s plans is an $8 monthly fee for users to have a green tick by their name—currently a sign of authenticity for officials, celebrities, journalists and others.

“To me, this opens the door to highly integrated information dissemination and manipulation,” said Melissa Aronczyk, associate professor of communication and information at Rutgers University.

Musk said the move aims to reduce hate speech by making it more expensive for trolls to have multiple accounts.

Aronczyk said the program would provide a stamp of authenticity to those willing to pay for a blue tick to push an agenda.

He brought up the controversy surrounding Hill+Knowlton Strategies — a PR firm that works for major fossil fuel companies — reportedly hired by host Egypt to handle public relations for the COP27 conference.

“Imagine all the Hill+Knowlton employees working for COP27 creating a network of checking accounts to promote business-led efforts at the conference. Or downplaying the conflicts. Or ignoring the protests,” Aronczyk said.

“It basically allows corporate greenwashing to become the default communication method about climate change.”

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