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Twitter Bots Are a Major Source of Climate Disinformation

Twitter accounts run by machines are a major source of climate change disinformation that might drain support from policies to address rising temperatures. In the weeks surrounding former President Trump’s announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, accounts suspected of being bots accounted for roughly a quarter of all tweets about climate change, according to new research. “If we are to effectively address the existential crisis of climate change, bot presence in the online discourse is a reality that scientists, social movements and those concerned about democracy have to better grapple with,” wrote Thomas Marlow, a postdoctoral researcher at the New York University, Abu Dhabi, campus, and his co-authors. Their paper published last week in the journal Climate Policy is part of an expanding body of research about the role of bots in online climate discourse.

The new focus on automated accounts is driven partly by the way they can distort the climate conversation online. Marlow’s team measured the influence of bots on Twitter’s climate conversation by analyzing 6.8 million tweets sent by 1.6 million users between May and June 2017. Trump made his decision to ditch the climate accord on June 1 of that year. President Biden reversed the decision this week. From that dataset, the team ran a random sample of 184,767 users through the Botometer, a tool created by Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media, which analyzes accounts and determines the likelihood that they are run by machines.

Researchers also categorized the 885,164 tweets those users had sent about climate change during the two-month study period. The most popular categories were tweets about climate research and news. Marlow and the other researchers determined that nearly 9.5% of the users in their sample were likely bots. But those bots accounted for 25% of the total tweets about climate change on most days. […] The researchers weren’t able to determine who deployed the bots. But they suspect the seemingly fake accounts could have been created by “fossil-fuel companies, petro-states or their surrogates,” all of which have a vested interest in preventing or delaying action on climate change.