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Climate sceptic tweets growing four times as fast as pro-climate

Climate scepticism is growing four times as fast as pro-climate content on Twitter, according to a new paper published today in Nature Climate Change by The Alan Turing Institute that features the collaboration of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

In an analysis of tweets from 2014 – 2021 during the annual COP conferences, researchers found that tweets by climate change sceptics were shared 16 times more during the COP26 in Glasgow than the COP21 in Lima. The study authors found that this increase in climate sceptic tweets online was fueled by  growing “right-wing activity” opposing climate action.

The study showed that overall, polarisation on Twitter in relation to the climate was low during COP21 until COP26. 2019 was identified as a key year that climate scepticism grew on Twitter.

According to Fabiana Zollo, a researcher at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and co-author of the study, “A possible reason for the increase in recent years could be due to a backlash against climate activist groups, like Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, taking action to draw attention to the crisis. ” 

Professor Mark Girolami, Chief Scientist at The Alan Turing Institute, said: “Acting quickly and effectively on the climate crisis relies heavily on broad international consensus and collaboration. The growth in polarisation online could risk political deadlock if it fuels antagonism to climate action. Policymakers should consider what exactly is causing this increase in scepticism online and find ways to tackle it.”

The authors say that groups that oppose climate action are using accusations of hypocrisy as a way to discredit climate summits and delay climate action. But they also found that both climate sceptics and pro-climate groups shared criticism of perceived hypocrisy on Twitter, particularly around the use of private jets. And previous research has shown that this type of content is more likely to go viral online. 

Andrea Baronchelli, Token Economy Lead at The Alan Turing Institute, said: “The significant increase in climate scepticism online is really concerning. Social media can act as an echo-chamber where people’s existing beliefs are reinforced. It’s really important that regulators continue to find ways to ensure that content shared online is accurate. ”