Disinformation about climate change on Twitter

Victor Chomel, David Chavalarias, Maziyar Panahi

Contact: victor.chomel@polytechnique.edu

Live social media debates increasingly accompany burning issues like environment. Which is why we have decided to analyze misinformation and disinformation about climate change on social networks. The first step was to disclosing the organization of climate-related communities. We worked on more than 30 million tweets from 5 million Twitter users, all on the topic of climate change. This allowed us to map the relative influence of communities and interactions among them. We wanted to show the dynamics of communities that initiate the climate change debate, whether it is on the climate change skeptics side or on the pro-climate side. We discovered radically different structures in these two communities. These differences in structures imply different mechanisms for the propagation of information, and therefore disinformation. The climate change skeptics community represents only one-quarter of the accounts in our sample. However, it compensates for its lower importance with a core of very proactive accounts (about one hundred thousand tweets/retweets each). This core group communicates on all themes at once and really drives the skeptics dynamic. This profusion sometimes leads to contradictions in the messages as we will show in the presentation. Basing their argument on false science, they seek to equate the two communities to better blur the debate. Conversely, among accounts convinced of the anthropogenic origin of global warming, even if some people are at the heart of the community, we do not observe a core capable of tweeting on all areas at the same time. We managed to highlight the echo chambers in the different communities by analyzing the propagation of specifically targeted tweets. Defining echo chambers also allow us to understand how to escape from them and see what kind of information has managed to spread beyond a filter bubble. In a second step, instead of looking at a fixed landscape, we sought to study its evolution over time. We wanted to highlight the recruitment strategies of the communities. Those convinced of the anthropogenic origin of global warming mainly take advantage of new events such as bushfires in Australia to raise awareness among new users. Not really activists, these new accounts are often attached to a particular topic. This gateway gradually leads them to other topics and engage them in the community. The climate skeptic community has different rhetoric. By commenting on pro-climate publications, they gain visibility. However, it is mainly through themes out of the climate topic that they succeed in gaining followers. One of the recruitment levers is precisely to divide people on social inequalities. Through calling attention to the wealth of the Democratic Party leadership, they politicize the issue and polarize the debate.

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