Paris – Scientists confronted with an avalanche of insults and threats on Twitter are leaving the social network, where climate denialism has multiplied since Elon Musk bought the platform.
Peter Gleick, a climate and water specialist with almost 100,000 followers on Twitter, announced on May 21 that he would not post any more messages on the network, accusing it of racism and sexism.
The investigator says he is used to “aggressive, personal and ‘ad hominem’ attacks, which go as far as direct physical threats.” But, in recent months, he says, “since the arrival of the new owner and the changes in Twitter, the number and intensity of the attacks have skyrocketed.”
Since acquiring the company six months ago, tycoon Elon Musk has eased moderation of problematic content and allowed previously banned people like Donald Trump to return.
Robert Rohde, of the Berkeley Earth association, also analyzed the activity of hundreds of accounts of climate specialists, before and after the change of ownership of Twitter.
In his opinion, these tweets did not have the same reach: the average number of “likes” (to mark approval) fell 38% and 40% less were retweeted.
Twitter has not directly commented on the changes it made to its algorithms, which drive network traffic and visibility. Contacted by email, the company’s press service responded with an automated message that includes a “poop” emoji.
Musk explained in a tweet in January one reason for the changes: “People on the right should watch more ‘left’ stuff and people on the left should watch more ‘right’ stuff. But you can block it if you want to stay in an echo room.”
In another analysis, renowned climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe looked at reactions to the same tweet that she deliberately posted twice, before and after the Twitter acquisition.
Responses from trolls or bots – automated accounts that often spread misinformation – increased 15 to 30 times compared to previous years, according to the scientist.
Since the purchase of Twitter in October, “my account registered regular growth, with at least several thousand new followers each month. Since then, it has not changed, ”he explains.
Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, decided to move most of his weather communication to another platform, called Substack.
“Climate communications on Twitter are less useful now because I see my tweets generate less engagement,” he says.
“In response to almost any tweet about climate change, I am inundated with responses from verified accounts with misleading or misinformed claims,” he says.
Other experts simply decided to leave Twitter. Katharine Hayhoe estimates that of the 3,000 climate scientists she had on file, 100 disappeared after the purchase of the bluebird firm.