News & Resources

Shadowy Twitter bots spread climate disinformation

January 23, 2021

CSSN Scholars Thomas Marlow and John Cook are featured in E&E News, where they discuss new research showing that a substantial amount of climate change disinformation online comes from Twitter bots. (E&E News article)

“If we are to effectively address the existential crisis of climate change, bot presence in the online discourse is a reality that scientists, social movements and those concerned about democracy have to better grapple with,” wrote Thomas Marlow, a postdoctoral researcher at the New York University, Abu Dhabi, campus, and his co-authors.

Twitter bots have been this growing force of evil over a half a decade now,” said John Cook, a professor at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication who was not involved with the study. Unscrupulous actors “have realized how powerful and influential misinformation can be,” he said. “Twitter bots have been a part of that.”

“These findings indicate that bots are not just prevalent, but disproportionately so in topics that were supportive of Trump’s announcement or skeptical of climate science and action,” the paper said.

“It is important to shut bots down,” [Cook] said in an interview. “It’s really just a matter of social media platforms taking responsibility and aggressively taking down what are flagged as definite bots. To me, that’s the bare minimum that Twitter should be doing.”

“Generally speaking, misinformation is good business,” he said. “Misinformation is more likely to be clicked and liked because it tends to be more sticky,” Cook explained. “And the business model of social media platforms are likes and clicks and shares: The more an item gets interaction, the more money a platform makes.”