From NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT
By Paul Homewood
Some of the UK’s top scientists are struggling to deal with what they describe as a huge rise in abuse from climate crisis deniers on Twitter since the social media platform was taken over by Elon Musk last year.
Since then, key figures who ensured “trusted” content was prioritised have been sacked, according to one scientist, and Twitter’s sustainability arm has vanished. At the same time several users with millions of followers who propagate false statements about the climate emergency, including Donald Trump and rightwing culture warrior Jordan Peterson, have had their accounts reinstated.
Climate scientists say the change has been stark, and they are fighting to make themselves heard over a “barrage” of often hostile comments.
“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 began his takeover in April 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 said he will stay on the platform and push back against conspiracy theories with scientific evidence. “I want people to understand there are solutions. There is a real need for us to be on social media defending the truth, however nasty the responses get.”
But not all scientists have found standing up to regular hostility an easy feat. Doug McNeall, a statistician working on climate change at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, said he had blocked or muted many accounts on Twitter even before Musk’s arrival. “I got to the point where it was definitely affecting my mental health,” he said.
“I spent years debating quite strongly with climate sceptics, including people I assume were paid,” he added. “But 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.”
This raises several points.
First, it confirms that pre-Musk Twitter was censoring climate sceptics.
Secondly, far too many climate scientists want to be political activists too. If they want to carry on publishing scientific papers, then fine. But it is not their job to tell us to change our lifestyles. These are political matters, to be determined by governments and voters. If they want to get involved in politics, then they should rightly expect to be criticised.
Thirdly, if they don’t want the hassle of defending their views, then the answer is very simple – don’t go on Twitter. Ben Pile summed it up nicely, when he called them planet-saving super heroes.
They actually think they are more important than they really are.
You must be logged in to post a comment.