On the morning of August 25, 11-year-old Lilly Platt tweeted a video clip of a Brazilian Amazon tribe speaking out against deforestation. Awareness of the Amazon wildfires was already at a fever pitch, and the tweet exploded. Then, within an hour, a swarm of troll accounts started flooding her mentions with porn. Shortly after the attack, her mom, Eleanor Platt, made an online plea for help: “Dear Friends of Lilly, this is Lillys mum she is being targeted by revolting trolls who are spamming her feed with pornography. There is only so much i can do to block this. Please if you see these posts report them.” Over the course of the day, some of Lilly’s nearly 10,000 followers did just that.
Young girls like Lilly, who has been striking in her hometown of Utrecht, Netherlands, every Friday for the last year, are overwhelmingly leading a growing global movement to draw attention to the climate crisis. They spurred an estimated 4 million people across seven continents to walk out of work and school on September 20 — and they are getting attacked for it. They have faced a barrage of daily insults, seemingly coordinated attacks (like the one that targeted Lilly), creepy DMs, doxing, hacked accounts, and death threats. This is the new normal for young climate leaders online, according to BuzzFeed News interviews with nearly a dozen of the kids and their parents.
Personal attacks have always been a part of the climate denial playbook, even as fossil fuel companies secretly funded campaigns and researchers to question the scientific consensus on climate change. The most famous incident, 2009’s Climategate, involved scientists getting their emails hacked and then facing death threats. And as the politics of climate change begins to mirror the broader dark trends of global politics, weaponized social media — in the form of intimidation, memes, and disinformation — has emerged as the dominant vehicle for climate denial. But the rise of a new climate movement means there’s now a much more visible — and especially vulnerable — target: kids.