A large group of over 10,000 accounts has grown since the summer of 2022. According to a study, the majority have shared pro-Kremlin propaganda about the war in Ukraine. Many have held anti-vaccine views and are aligned with the far right. Audrey Garric discusses latest developments in an article on the Le Monde website. Have you seen similar developments in your country?
Climate change denialism is on the rise on French Twitter, researchers find
“The climate has always varied”; “there is no consensus on global warming”; “it’s a variation of solar activity”. Climate untruths are flourishing more than ever on social media. According to a study published Monday, February 13, France has faced a strong resurgence of climate change denialism on Twitter since July 2022.
More than 10,000 active accounts have been sharing false information in thousands of daily tweets. The deluge is enough to slow down the transmission of scientific knowledge on the extent of the climate change crisis and the urgency to act to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
To reach these conclusions, four scientists from the Complex Systems Institute of Paris Ile-de-France (part of the CNRS) sifted through two years of Twitter exchanges in 2021 and 2022. Their study is part of the Climatoscope project, which has analyzed more than 400 million tweets about climate change on social networks since 2016.
“Previously, France was much less affected by climate skepticism than the United States. But between 2021 and the summer of 2022, the activity of ‘denialist’ accounts increased sixfold,” noted David Chavalarias, primary author of the study, research director at CNRS and director of the Complex Systems Institute.
By “denialism,” the mathematician means the rejection of facts that enjoy a consensus within the competent scientific community. In its August 2021 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that the role of human activities, and in particular the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), was “unequivocal” on global warming.
‘A process is underway’
Despite this consensus, researchers at the Complex Systems Institute have found that a large French climate denialist community has grown on Twitter since the summer of 2022, when there were three major news stories: an increased number of extreme weather events (heat waves, fires, drought, etc.), the convergence of global warming issues with those of the security of oil and gas supply due to the war in Ukraine, and finally the UN climate conference, COP27, in Egypt in November, where the fossil fuel industry had a strong presence. It is also the period when US billionaire Elon Musk, after buying Twitter, decided to close down moderation services and started to restore suspended accounts.
“From July onwards, climate skeptics came out of the shadows and have become one of the most active communities in the climate Twittersphere,” warned Chavalarias. There are many more of them who post daily on average and publish more tweets than the other categories studied: the “IPCC community” (the IPCC authors and their main advocates), pro-climate activists (associations, NGOs, political activists), “techno-solutionists,” the media and government communication.
Many of these accounts have fewer followers than renowned climate scientists like Valérie Masson-Delmotte (70,000), but some have attracted nearly 300,000 followers. “Even though the size of this community is smaller than the one that supports the scientific consensus on climate, a process is underway,” warned Chavalarias. “If we do not realize this, it can lead to a polarization of society on science-based issues, like in the United States where Republicans are predominantly climate skeptics.”
According to the researchers, 26% of Twitter accounts in France that address climate issues are climate change denialists, similar to the rest of the world (30%). The figure corresponds to the proportion of climate skeptics in the global population – a minority, but far from insignificant.
‘A rhetoric called the 5Ds’
The researchers tried to draw a composite picture of these accounts. The majority (60%) have shared pro-Kremlin propaganda about the war in Ukraine, many have held anti-vaccine views and have participated in major “anti-system” campaigns for the past two years, such as the social crisis in Guadeloupe or the conspiracy theory on the Omicron variant. Furthermore, many of them are aligned with the far right, including with parties like Eric Zemmour’s Reconquête. However, this community does not overlap with traditional political parties.
The group also counts 2.8 times more fake accounts (human or bot-driven) than the IPCC community. It also shares 3.5 times more messages identified as “toxic” (abusive, insulting, etc.). “Behind the traditional economic and political motives of climate skeptics, we also suspect geopolitical action, for example by the Russian government, which exacerbates the activity of these accounts,” said Chavalarias.
The study focuses in particular on the account @Elpis_R, whose activity on Twitter has more than doubled since the summer of 2022, and which, despite its moderate number of followers (17,800), has become the most influential of this community. After a long period of anti-vax activism and a phase “where it became the discreet mouthpiece of pro-Kremlin propaganda,” the anonymous account had been attacking IPCC authors and climate scientists, as the report shows.
“The account has developed a rhetoric known as the 5Ds, which is particularly popular with subversion operations: discredit, distortion, distraction, dissuasion and division,” the scientists point out. “It complements it with a sixth D, which is perhaps the most important in promoting climate inaction: doubt.” In addition, it freely resorts to conspiracy rhetoric.
What is the impact of these accounts? The study concludes that denialist discourse, along with techno-solutionist communities “probably succeed in slowing down” the spread of scientific knowledge and the IPCC’s conclusions, by modifying the perception of both the urgency to act and of the capacity to act immediately. It is a warning, a few weeks before the publication of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC’s latest findings, scheduled for March 20.
2 thoughts on “France has faced a strong resurgence of climate change denialism on Twitter since July 2022”
Who funds these imbeciles? I’d hazard a guess Putler and his mates – with perhaps the Koch brothers still dabbling. Time to close twitter down. Uesless and pointless – a forum populated by cretins & the article shows.
Who knows who finances what. This is a crazy world. But if Twitter closes, something else will replace it. This is the age we live in.