From October 2021 to July 19, 2022, the Twitter hashtag #ClimateScam was basically dead, seeing essentially zero tweets. Then, as if someone flipped a switch to turn it on, usage jumped, with over 1,000 posts a day in the months that followed.
This hashtag wasn't outcompeting #ClimateCrisis and #ClimateEmergency, so it’s very odd that in November, during the COP27 UN climate negotiations, #ClimateScam popped up before both "climate" and the more popular #ClimateEmergency when users typed "climate" into Twitter's search bar.
What happened? Why would something less popular show first? And most importantly, what happened at the end of July 2022 to kickstart #ClimateScam on the platform in the first place?
The final report from the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) Coalition's COP27 disinformation project eliminates basically every possible explanation besides someone at Twitter deciding to turn up the volume of #ClimateScam content.
“This research shows that climate disinformation isn’t going away and, in fact, it’s getting worse," said Erika Seiber, climate disinformation spokesperson at Friends of the Earth U.S., in a press release. "During COP, Twitter’s search engine pushed #ClimateScam as a top result without any justification for the data behind it. Until governments hold social media and ad companies accountable, and companies hold professional disinformers accountable, crucial conversations around the climate crisis are going to be put in jeopardy. To start, Twitter should offer an explanation of how this inexcusable climate denial trend came to be.”
Searches from signed-out browsers in incognito mode still suggested #ClimateScam, the content wasn't more popular than non-denial hashtags, and this phenomenon wasn't something that was observed on other platforms. Facebook usage of #ClimateScam was minimal, for example, and TikTok didn't even allow the phrase as a search term.
But that's not to imply that Facebook's got its act together!
The report also reveals that fossil fuel-linked advertisers spent between three and four million dollars to spread greenwashing climate disinformation on Facebook and Instagram ahead of and during COP27, with a marked increase the month before COP started.
Most prolific, by far, with more daily ads than the other 86 pages combined, was the American Petroleum Institute's "Energy Citizens" front group, which posted ads the report describes as "citing nationalist arguments around ‘energy security’."
Another top advertiser was America's Plastic Makers, which is a front for the petrochemical industry that spent $1.1 million on climate-related advertising between September 1 and November 23.
Jennie King, Head of Climate Research and Response at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said in a statement, "Our report shows Big Oil continues to invest millions in digital advertising to launder their image as ‘climate champions’, while also promoting the necessity of fossil fuels and building business plans."
Fortunately, there is some hope. Jake Dubbins, Co-Chair of the Conscious Advertising Network and CAAD member who attended COP27, noted, “Leaders we spoke to from countries Germany to Saint Lucia were all deeply concerned about the disinformation war. If the urgency of the climate crisis continues to be undermined by mis- and disinformation, then the climate action we all so desperately need will continue to be delayed to the point of no return.”