Musk Remaking Twitter into Climate Denial, and Racism, Megaphone

March 29, 2023

It’s a bit of a joke – “2010 called and they want their climate denial talking point back”.

But why? Does it just seem that way, or is it real, that just as climate change has been emerging in all the more horrifying clarity, climate denial is on a whole new roll, especially on Elon Musk’s twitter. And yes, as I’ve pointed out for more than a decade, somehow that seems to go together with racism, misogyny, and anti-semitism.

I don’t get it. Ketan Joshi has more.

Ketan Joshi:

As I wrote recently here on my site, Elon Musk’s reputation as a ‘climate hero’ has been badly exaggerated. Every good thing he’s contributed to sits alongside a collection of actively counter-productive things. One of those things is killing a space that climate activists, communicators and experts used regularly – that is, Twitter. Still my core social media space, but a broken, burning one. 

Musk has been more and more open about his right-wing tendencies, particularly his own transphobia and support for white supremacists, white nationalists and racists. Musk flew on a private jet to the World Cup, and sat next to right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch (who later praised Musk’s progress with Twitter – it’s all a bit amusing given the preponderance of the feeling among Tesla stans that the media is out to get them). 

Since the takeover at the end of October last year, it’s been tough not to feel this ideology directly, particularly as someone who’s sunk plenty of time and effort into Twitter as a main platform for climate and energy communication. 

Apart from the very obvious bad vibes, shitty replies and short tempers, there is real data to support a rise in right-wing content. Antisemitism, for instance, has flared up.

Hate speech has gotten worse because Musk’s understanding of free, healthy speech is at the level of a 12 year old in the year 2013. Content moderation has rolled back, and a whole swathe of previously-banned accounts have been unsuspended, including a bunch of really, really bad racists and white supremacists.

It feels like something more fundamental in site dynamic has changed – particularly around which accounts and tweets get boosted and promoted. 

I recently noticed that climate deniers, or climate delayers (who argue for no or slow climate action) have had massive increases in their followings, whereas pro-climate accounts have either lost followers, or gained very few of them. Musk has himself been cosying up with climate deniers, boosting, for instance, a conspiracy theory video from Australian climate denier and member of far-right xenophobic party One Nation, Senator Malcolm Roberts. “[Musk is] doing a marvellous job of rekindling freedom of speech,” Roberts told the SMH. “That alone is worthy of high praise.”

Berlin-based researcher Travis Brown has been tracking various changes at Twitter under Musk’s rule; particularly how the roll-out of the paid service ‘Twitter Blue’ has been going (I did an ad-hoc data snapshot of climate denial among Blue accounts, and…it’s bad). Being able to pay a tiny fee to simulate trustworthiness and get boosted into prominence in both algorithmic feeds and the sorting of replies on Twitter is invaluable for climate deniers. 

It is, of course, very relevant given that Musk has just announced that the only tweets appearing in the algorithmic ‘For You’ feed will be those who’ve paid to subscribe to Twitter. Musk think he’s onto a solid grift here; offering prominence to those who are so deeply shit in their speech that they’ve failed to earn it.

Another recent analysis by ISD found that “fringe climate denialist websites have gained a foothold in online conversation with thousands of daily mentions on Twitter by highly followed climate-denying actors, pundits and outlets”. They also found that “some actors identified as ‘super-spreaders’ of climate misinformation by ISD and CAAD linked to the fringe websites”, including notorious denier accounts Patrick Moore, Steve Milloy and Peter Clack

Travis Brown has a system that collections information about Twitter accounts over time, including follower count. It’s weighted towards collecting information on conservative / right-wing networks, but out of curiosity, I messaged him to see if he could help answer a question I was pondering: are climate deniers seeing a significant increase in their Twitter platform, compared to pro-climate accounts? 

So: I collected up a list of the top denier accounts using a mix of my own knowledge, responses to this tweet, and this report from the ISD (thank you Jenny King!). For pro-climate, I put myself in there, along with people who are on ‘top climate accounts to follow’ lists, and a few of my own extras (if anyone would like to repeat this analysis using an actual, real methodology for selecting accounts, particularly one that’s representative and inclusive – please, feel free – I had no time beyond this informal grab-bag of accounts). I sent it to Travis, and he sent back the follower count over time for each of those accounts.

I picked a Sep 2022 baseline because earlier than that has too many gaps, particularly for pro-climate accounts. That’s three full months before Musk’s purchase of Twitter was finalised, on October 31. Compare that baseline date to now, look at the percentage change of followers between then and the end of February, and you get this:

Much more at the link with quite a few interesting graphs.



Since Musk took over he has set about dismantling everything that made Twitter valuable — making it his mission to drive out expertise, scare away celebrities, bully reporters and — on the flip side — reward the bad actors, spammers and sycophants who thrive in the opposite environment: An information vacuum.

It almost doesn’t matter if this is deliberate sabotage by Musk or the blundering stupidity of a clueless idiot. The upshot is the same: Twitter is dying.

The value that Twitter’s platform produced, by combining valuable streams of qualification and curiosity, is being beaten and wrung out. What’s left has — for months now — felt like an echo-y shell of its former self. And it’s clear that with every freshly destructive decision — whether it’s unbanning the nazis and letting the toxicity rip, turning verification into a pay-to-play megaphone or literally banning journalists — Musk has applied his vast wealth to destroying as much of the information network’s value as possible in as short a time as possible; each decision triggering another exodus of expertise as more long-time users give up and depart.

Simply put, Musk is flushing Twitter down the sink. I guess now we all know what the dumb meme really meant.

On April Fools Day, the next — perhaps final — stage of the destruction will commence as Musk rips away the last layer of legacy verification, turning up the volume on anyone who’s willing to pay him $7.99 per month to shout over everyone else.

Anyone who was verified under the old (and by no means perfect) system of Twitter verification — which was at least related to who they were (celebrity, expert, journalist, etc.) — will cease to be verified. Assuming they haven’t already deleted their account. Only accounts that pay Musk will display a ‘Blue Check’.

This is just a parody of verification since the blue tick no longer signals any kind of quality. But the visual similarity seems intentional; a dark pattern designed to generate maximum confusion.

If you pay Musk for this meaningless mark you’ll also get increased algorithmic visibility of your tweets and the power to drown out non-paying users. Which mean all the fakes and imposters can (and will) overwrite the real-deal on Twitter.


One Response to “Musk Remaking Twitter into Climate Denial, and Racism, Megaphone”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    On the upside, at least now the Taliban’s “communications director” can pay for a blue check on his Twitter account.

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