Climate change has been widely acknowledged as the gravest threat that human civilization has ever faced; this was true before the pandemic, and it is still true now. What has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, is that we have all lived through a chilling global case study in how misinformation, and a concomitant erosion of public trust, can severely undermine a global effort to address a global disaster.
At Logically, our mission is to understand how misinformation works and build the best possible tools to address it. In partnership with APCO Worldwide and in advance of the COP26 climate change conference, we decided to put our tools to the test to try and understand how online misinformation about climate change works and how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things.
We believe that this study is the first of its kind; we have created a dataset of millions of pieces of social media content and analyzed it using artificial intelligence designed to understand online conversations in terms of narrative. What we found was in parts predictably concerning, in parts extremely surprising, and in some small ways, oddly reassuring.
There appears to be far more discussion about climate misinformation than there is support for climate misinformation.
Unlike with COVID-19 conspiracies, QAnon, or many of the other misinformation trends and topics we monitor at Logically, we found little evidence of a passionate grassroots movement dedicated to pushing climate misinformation narratives. In fact, there appears to be far more discussion about climate misinformation than there is support for climate misinformation. This is reassuring, but it does not mean that there is no problem with climate misinformation; on the contrary, we found that climate misinformation is often pushed in service of other interests – some conspiratorial, some political, some economic. Though we found little evidence of a grassroots climate misinformation movement, we found ample evidence of grassroots movements willing to entertain climate misinformation to support other conspiratorial beliefs.
We also found that, by far, the biggest drivers of climate misinformation narratives are communications from political leaders, both elected (in the cases of Donald Trump and Joe Biden) and not (in the case of the World Economic Forum and Greta Thunberg). These communications themselves are not necessarily misinformative but do support climate misinformation of various kinds in interesting ways.
By far, the biggest drivers of climate misinformation narratives are communications from political leaders, both elected and not.
Misinformation thrives where trust is undermined, and whether it is these communications strategies that undermine trust, or if they merely allow for an existing lack of trust to be exploited, is something which we cannot say for certain. What our research does demonstrate, however, is that the climate misinformation landscape has dramatically changed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the source of climate misinformation narratives is not where many of us probably assumed it was.
You can read the full report here.