Finding information in climate disinformation around COP26: Superspreaders abound, on Twitter and Facebook

  • Published on November 17th, 2021

We’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in the social media discussion of COP26, working with an international, collaborative effort to monitor and respond to disinformation in order to prevent it from derailing negotiations. While a daily climate disinfo readout is hardly new for us, having a dashboard aggregating thousands of strategically selected accounts across social platforms provided a larger, and more quantitative, set of tools to track the popularity and spread of disinformation.

By Climate Denier Roundup

Looking back over what was most popular, we’re not exactly surprised by what we found, but what was interesting was the prevalence of Twitter content, which appeared to be shared much more widely than content from Facebook or YouTube.

While the most popular content was everyone retweeting a clip of someone helping out a sloth cross the road, and deer in a convenience store, viral Covid conspiracies made up the bulk of the most-shared content every day.

Once that was filtered out, though, it was the same set of professional deniers on Twitter who consistently got the most shares. Facebook posts would dot the dataset, particularly cartoons and memes from groups like “climate change is crap,” but the overwhelming bulk of the disinformation was being spread on Twitter, suggesting that despite Facebook’s steady stream of embarrassing reports, Twitter might now be the bigger problem.

As for the subject of the disinformation, it somewhat reflected the pacing of the conference, as just getting there was the first fight.

Trolls and professional trolls alike delighted in the idea that people had to travel on jets to get to Scotland, and took particular glee in pointing to (privatejet use. While the hypocrisy message is an obvious-enough easy score for them, it’s really quite ridiculous for the apparent expectation to be that people who are negotiating over solving a problem didn’t solve said problem before arriving at negotiations.

In that same vein of climate advocates not having already solved the systemic problem of our reliance on fossil fuels, before COP even kicked off factcheckers had to swat down claims that the organizers were relying on diesel generators to charge EVs, an exercise they had to repeat during the conference itself, thanks to anti-climate activists.

During both weeks, Holocaust denier Peter Sweden was a social-celeb to climate deniers, with a bunch of popular tweets about climate and tyranny and communism, something echoed by Glenn Beck and Heartland, and China was also a recurring target for “free-market” anti-regulatory conservatives suddenly very concerned about working conditions in the mining and solar manufacturing industry.

But over the course of the two weeks monitoring thousands of accounts and social media posts, what stood out was that every day’s top posts came from the same small cast of characters.

Mainstream rightwing and Rupert-Murdoch-owned media, like Fox and Sky News Australia, were crucial in generating video clips for deniers who can’t get past mainstream media’s factchecking gatekeepers, but Holocaust denier Peter Sweden had one of the top three posts on four different days out of the two weeks, marking his success in building an audience among climate deniers that rivals (MAGA) household names like Sean HannityJordan Peterson and Dan Bongino, who showed up slightly less frequently but no less ferociously.

Other recurring characters include the professional denial set, those employed full time to spread disinformation, like Koch-alum energy lobbyist Daniel Turner, who blames renewables for fossil fuel prices, and the billionaire-funded meme-machineTurning Point USA.

Despite the dashboard picking up content from literally thousands of accounts, it was the same couple dozen that kept rising to the top of the pile, underscoring just how easy it would be for social media companies to slash the amount of disinformation their users are exposed to on a daily basis.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)

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