Twitter says it is attempting to combat climate disinformation by steering its massive user base to reliable information with more context, a strategy the company calls “prebunking.”
The rollout coincides with the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which is expected to spark an increase in bad information online. Twitter users will be directed to online hubs containing “credible, authoritative information,” according to a company blog post. These guides will appear in users’ “explore” tabs, their Twitter search portals, and relevant trends lists,” according to a Twitter spokesperson, who confirmed details first reported by Axios.
The platform wants to get ahead of any coordinated falsehoods that could surface during the summit, which aims to chart an aggressive course to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow Earth’s warming. Negotiations will take place over two weeks, but the two-day leaders’ summit begins Monday with about 120 heads of state and government officials.
Because the summit is sure to spark more conversations about climate change and the environment online, Twitter is using prebunks — “reliable, authoritative hubs of information from global experts” — to get ahead of misleading narratives, said Elizabeth Busby, a company spokesperson.
“These prebunks will surface authoritative context across a range of key themes, like the science backing climate change and global warming realities,” Busby said
The platform is focused on elevating credible information from global experts, Busby said. The idea is to prime users with reliable data before someone else can spam them with falsehoods.
Corporate interests have sought to discredit climate science for decades, employing a variety of means to politicize the subject and undermine efforts to limit emissions, according to a 2015 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook — which reach hundreds of millions of users a day — present a massive target for climate change deniers. A 2021 study by researchers from New York University and Brown University concluded that suspected bot accounts were responsible for about 25% of climate-related tweets in January 2017, before and after then-President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. The study examined 6.8 million tweets.
Some companies have moved to contain their reach. Last month, Google subsidiary YouTube rolled out a policy designed to prevent people from making money off content that denies climate change.
Facebook, like Twitter, is highlighting accurate posts and building information hubs. In late September, the platform kicked off a glossy video campaign to elevate information put out by climate activists. It also added to a company-branded Climate Science Center designed to give users a centralized source for accurate information on climate change. In some cases the company has added information labels to some posts that redirect people to the center.
Leaked documents covered by the tech news publication Protocol revealed that most Facebook users had no idea the center existed, however. Even among those who had visited the center, 66% of users were unaware of the center.
Facebook also announced a $1 million investment in a new grant program, administered by the International Fact Checking Network, to support organizations working to combat climate misinformation.
“We’re taking steps to make sure people have access to reliable information while reducing climate misinformation, even as it makes up a small amount of the overall climate content on our apps,” according to a Sept. 16 blog post from the company now known as Meta.
Twitter’s announcement Monday made pointed references to “climate change realities” and a commitment to “keep pace with the urgency of the climate crisis.”
Its terms of service prohibit several forms of so-called “platform manipulation,” but to do not specifically prohibit people from spreading falsehoods on the subject.
Twitter’s rules bar people from using the app “in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter.” That includes “commercially-motivated spam,” using fake accounts to influence conversations, or “coordinated harmful activity” such as encouraging violence.
Busby, the Twitter spokesperson, did not respond to questions about whether climate misinformation had ever triggered a platform violation on the basis of platform manipulation.