Accounts that used to regularly engage and tweet about climate-related issues have been dropping like flies on Twitter, less than a year after Elon Musk’s purchase of the company. A report published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution this week found that almost 50% of over 300,000 “environmentally oriented” accounts were no longer active after the new owner took over.
The researchers, led by Charlotte Chang, a Pomona College assistant professor of biology and environmental analysis, looked at a sample of 380,000 accounts. These users were considered active if they had posted at least once in a 15-day period. They analyzed the accounts in the sample from December 2022 and May 2023, and by the end of that six-month period, only about 52% of the users were still active.
Researchers compared this data to another sample group of 458,000 users who posted about U.S. politics. From December 2022 to May 2023, 79% of users in that group were still active. Chang told Earther that she and other researchers didn’t have specific expectations when they began their analysis, so the quick rate of climate-related users leaving the platform was especially concerning.
“There is currently no platform equivalent to Twitter,” the researchers wrote in the report. “Changes in engagement by environmentally minded users raises serious questions about where to track discourse about environmental conservation and how to mobilize pro-environmental segments of the public.”
Twitter has been a tool for climate activists and science communication for years. It was used as an organizing tool for the nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020. Young climate activists spread their message to spark Fridays for Future and global youth protests on Twitter throughout a lot of 2019. The platform has also been a disaster response tool across many climate change-related natural disasters and emergencies.
“I think that really gestures to the power of Twitter, as a way for people to encounter ideas across different communities that they may not have been a part of,” Chang told Earther. “That’s why it was super powerful.”
The reign of Musk at Twitter, recently rebranded as X, has been marked by a number of bone-headed changes including the company’s ridiculous rebranding and invalidating the blue check mark verification system. Musk has called himself a “free speech absolutist,” and decided to prove that to the world by cutting down on the content moderation staff from several hundred to less than 100 in only a few months while implementing selective censorship for his enemies. His takeover has led to several changes in the platform’s interface, and service outages as well. “These changes posed major hurdles to crowd-sourcing information during the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria,” the report said.
Since Musk acquired the company, hate speech has exploded on the platform alongside climate misinformation. Scientists who were once regularly posting on Twitter have fled the site in the Musk-era, leaving behind what now feel like internet mausoleums of their former tweets. Water scientist and climate activist Peter Gleick with over 90,000 followers, told Al Jazeera that the intensity of online abuse had increased significantly since Musk took over last year. “Musk & his blue-checked shock troops have completed turning Twitter into a toxic, hate-filled, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic cesspool,” the pinned tweet on his account says.
Chang told Earther that she wants future research to address where these former Twitter users have moved on, and if they’re still trying to inform the public about climate-related issues.
“If Twitter was the only platform that folks use, are they no longer active on social media at all? Are they migrating to other public-facing platforms such as Instagram or Threads or Mastodon or Bluesky,” she said. “Or are they migrating to more private channels and spaces such as Discord or Slack workspaces?”
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