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What is Climate Change Misinformation?

large fires, a side effect of climate change

"Climate change misinformation" is a term used to describe falsehoods about climate change. The term encompasses everything from climate change denialism (i.e., "climate change is a hoax") to unfounded claims about specific weather events (i.e., "this flood was caused by cloud seeding," "the media is exaggerating the severity of this heatwave").

Some researchers have said that — as climate science is evolving — what we call "climate change misinformation" should be based on what is considered correct by the expert consensus of the time. That said, and regardless of the precise definition, the issue of climate change misinformation is an urgent one. Currently, there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any other time in human history. As Carbon Brief has reported, climate change misinformation can "contribute to public confusion and political inaction, rejection of or reduced support for mitigation policies, as well as increased existing political polarisation."

How common is climate change misinformation?

Given its importance, climate change is a frequent topic of conversation in media outlets and social media platforms. That said, a Logically report found that “traditional denialist narratives such as humans not being responsible for climate change or climate change not occurring are a negligible proportion of online conversations." Instead, there is skepticism about the cost or necessity of political action, as well as feelings of climate doomerism. Often, social media users falsely claim the risks of global warming are exaggerated or not what they seem. Sometimes, users blend climate change misinformation with the features of other conspiracy narratives. 

For instance, some social media users recently linked a recent U.K. heatwave to vaccines. These users shared an apparent screenshot of a Sky News headline reading, "UK Heatwave: Vaccines could be the way to battle the climate crises." This headline was, of course, fake, but the post took off in the anti-vax online community. Elsewhere, social media users alleged that presenters in Germany were exaggerating the effects of climate change by using weather maps that were "more red,” and that NASA said climate change is linked to the Earth’s orbital position relative to the sun. Both of these claims were (and are) also false.

What are platforms doing to combat climate change misinformation? 

In 2021, Facebook made steps toward combating climate change misinformation on its platforms. For example, it established and enhanced the climate science information center, which the platform says "connects people on Facebook with science-based news, approachable information and actionable resources from the world's leading climate change organizations."

Other social media platforms have taken action too. In April this year, Twitter said it would start banning misleading ads about climate change. Last year, Google and YouTube announced they were prohibiting ads contradicting "scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change." Interestingly, Pinterest is the platform that has gone the furthest. As of April this year, it doesn’t allow any climate change misinformation at all.

But all social media platforms have faced criticism for a perceived hands-off approach to climate change misinformation. In February this year, the Center for Countering Digital Hate found claimed Facebook fails to label half of the posts promoting articles from the world’s leading publishers of climate change misinformation. As for Twitter, a 2021 study found that bots are a major source of climate change misinformation. 

What can you do to combat climate change misinformation? 

Without the right tools and insight, it can be hard — if not impossible — to combat climate change misinformation, as people alone cannot sift through the sheer number of posts and the sheer number of claims.

With the right tools, however, the task is more manageable. Logically helps you identify and counter climate change misinformation and the actors behind it so you can keep vital sustainability initiatives on track.

Contact us to learn more about combating climate change misinformation.

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Download the Climate Misinformation Report

APCO Worldwide and Logically undertook a collaborative research project focused on identifying and understanding the most prominent climate misinformation narratives ahead of COP26.