West News Wire: Since Elon Musk took control of Twitter last year, some of the top scientists in the UK are having a difficult time coping with what they describe as a sharp increase in hostility from people who deny the existence of a climate emergency.
One scientist claims that since then, important individuals who oversaw the prioritisation of “trusted” information have been fired, and Twitter’s sustainability division has disappeared. Several users, including Donald Trump and right-wing cultural warrior Jordan Peterson, who spread misleading information about the climate emergency and have millions of followers, have also had their accounts reinstated.
The change, according to climate scientists, has been stark, and they are struggling to be heard over a “barrage” of frequently negative remarks.
“There’s been a massive change,” said Mark Maslin, professor of earth system science at University College London and the author of popular books including How to Save Our Planet. “I get so much abuse and rude comments now. It’s happening to all of us, but I challenge the climate deniers so I’ve been really targeted.”
Maslin says he used to have regular meetings with Sean Boyle, Twitter’s former head of sustainability, who was laid off in Musk’s mass cull of staff shortly after he took over in Aprll 2022. Maslin said Boyle discussed the platform’s work to develop ways of ensuring that trusted information was pushed to the top.
“They were using climate change as a good test bed, because it was fairly clear who the good and bad actors were,” Maslin said. “But he was sacked and Twitter became the wild west.”
Maslin declared that he would remain on the stage and refute conspiracy theories with facts. I want people to realise there are answers. Despite the negative comments, it is imperative that we defend the truth on social media.
However, not all scientists have found it simple to withstand common opposition. Earlier than Musk’s arrival, several accounts on Twitter had already been blocked or muted, according to Doug McNeall, a statistician working on climate change at the Met Office Hadley Centre at Exeter University. “I got to the point where it was definitely affecting my mental health,” he admitted.
He said, “I spent years vigorously debating with climate sceptics, including people I assume were paid.” however there can be a real personal cost interacting over a long time with people who are abusing you.”
McNeall said it was hard for scientists to work out how to cut through the false information on Twitter. “I just can’t tell if people are seeing disinformation or getting good scientific information about what is happening,” he said. “That’s really worrying.”
Ed Hawkins, professor of climate science at Reading University, who has 94,000 Twitter followers, said he had seen a “huge increase” in tweets from climate-denier accounts, often involving conspiracy theories or long-debunked topics. “A larger fraction of the comments are personal and abusive,” he said. “Any mildly popular tweet from a climate scientist is now targeted for a barrage of replies.”
Hawkins has observed that a large number of denier accounts have bought Twitter memberships, making them show higher up in the replies. He claimed that “it appears to be a coordinated effort” on the part of climate change denialists to give the impression that the issue is more widespread than it actually is.
Outright animosity has increased recently, according to Professor Richard Betts, chair of climate impacts at Exeter University and director of climate impacts at the Hadley Centre. People typically just say that you are talking nonsense. They are not interested in speaking.
According to a poll of 468 worldwide climate scientists conducted by the advocacy group Global Witness and published last month, well-known scientists were most likely to experience abuse, with half of those who had written at least 10 papers reporting they had suffered online harassment as a result of their climate work. One in eight female scientists who reported abuse had been threatened with sexual violence.