There are those who want to derail action on climate change. They include powerful corporations and individuals with 'fossil fortunes' at stake. Now, as pressure for concrete action begins to mount, they're fighting back. It should come as no surprise they're weaponizing social media.
Scientists, activists and politicians who are engaged in climate policy say they are being besieged by a surge of online attacks. It is difficult to divine whether the bursts of "climate change"-related Twitter activity are spontaneous or part of coordinated campaigns; some experts say that likely a small number of influencers are touching off postings by a far larger number of followers. But in a post-2016 world that is keenly aware of the role that social media played in the election of Donald Trump, the targets of climate attacks are concerned about the potential for online onslaughts to manipulate opinion and neutralize growing public support for climate action.
"I believe this is a concerted effort, likely by bad state actors and fossil fuel interests, to create disinformation, discord and division as we approach the all-important UN Summit and children's youth event later this month," said climate scientist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, a frequent target of attacks.
...Bot Sentinel has become a tool for those trying to fight the spread of disinformation on Twitter. The platform uses an algorithm to identify accounts it labels as "trollbots"—those that frequently retweet known propaganda accounts, exhibit repetitive behavior or violate Twitter's terms of service by harassing other users. Following CNN's climate forum on Sept. 4, there was an unusually high 700 mentions of climate change in a 24-hour period from the 100,000-some accounts Bot Sentinel is tracking as trollbots.Targeted Attacks.
Mann, the climate scientist, found himself on the receiving end of some of this activity after he posted a Tweet thanking CNN for a "full evening of informed, detailed climate change conversation." "Climate change is a hoax," replied @fdnymt, another account identified as exhibiting trollbot behavior by Bot Sentinel.
Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, who traveled to the United States for the UN Summit, has been a frequent target of toxic online attacks. Soon after Thunberg started her two-week sailboat voyage across the Atlantic, British political donor and co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign Arron Banks tweeted, "freak yachting accidents do happen in August." Following the lead of figures like Banks, lesser-known Twitter handles have piled on.
We're being attacked. It would help if, at some point, we acted as people do when they're under attack.