Essay by Eric Worrall
“… Half of regular green tweeters abandoned platform after its sale and cuts to moderation, analysis finds …”
Alarm at exodus of climate voices on Twitter after Musk takeover
Half of regular green tweeters abandoned platform after its sale and cuts to moderation, analysis finds
Damian Carrington Environment editor @dpcarringtonWed 16 Aug 2023 01.00 AEST
Half of people regularly tweeting about the climate and nature crises abandoned Twitter after it was taken over by Elon Musk, according to new analysis.
Musk, who has called himself a “free speech absolutist”, radically cut Twitter’s content moderation staff after the takeover, which began in April 2022 and was finalised in October 2022.
Reports have found rising climate change dis- and misinformation on the platform and a dramatic increase in hate speech. Scientists and others told the Guardian in December that there had been a surge in debunked climate change denialist talking points on Twitter since the Musk takeover.
“The incredible power of Twitter was that it was this open forum where people could share ideas and opinions and influence other people,” said Prof Charlotte Chang, of Pomona College in the US, who led the research. “We have this immense challenge of empowering stakeholders across all sectors of society to take action to halt the loss of biodiversity and to combat catastrophic climate change. We were pretty disheartened to find that after the sale, our environmental Twitter community has really declined.”
The analysis, titled: Environmental users abandoned Twitter after Musk takeover, is published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution. It analysed the Twitter use of the groups in 15-day intervals from July 2019 to April 2023. A user was deemed to be active if they tweeted at least once about their topic in a 15-day window.
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/aug/15/twitter-exodus-climate-green-voices-musk-takeover
The Abstract of Professor Chang’s study;
Environmental users abandoned Twitter after Musk takover
Charlotte H. Chang, Nikhil R. Deshmukh, Paul R. Armsworth, Yuta J. Masuda
Published: August 15, 2023DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2023.07.002
In our sample of 380 000 environmentally oriented users, nearly 50% became inactive on Twitter after it was sold in October 2022, a rate much higher than a control sample. Given Twitter’s importance for public communication, our finding has troubling implications for digital environmental information sharing and public mobilization.
Read more: https://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/fulltext/S0169-5347(23)00189-1
I love Professor Chang’s use of the phrase “open forum”, as in excluding people she disagrees with. Now those people are no longer excluded, “our Environmental Twitter community has really declined”.
Why should greens expect to have exclusive access to a platform for mobilising the public? Last time I checked, freedom and democracy was about people with different points of view being able to have their say.
Looking at Professor Chang’s twitter feed, I couldn’t see overwhelming evidence of hate speech.
I did notice Chang made a few political comments outside her usual environmental chatter, like in 2020 she tweeted support for BLM. Regardless of how you feel about BLM, tweeting a strong view about BLM in 2020, pro or anti, would have attracted some fiery feedback, some of which could have spilled over into some of her other tweets. So there are reasons other than her views on the environment as to why Chang might have received some hate speech.
And frankly I find Chang’s views on “open” forums pretty offensive – Chang seems to define an open forum on the environment as a public place which excludes people like me. Does Chang really think only some people deserve to have their views heard? What other exclusions should be applied to climate skeptics?
History is full of examples of where that kind of thinking can lead.
The big question in my mind though, where will eco-snowflakes like Chang find a new home?
People grudgingly tolerated political censorship on Twitter and Facebook, because of founder effect. Everyone signed up in the early days because these platforms were mostly the only game in town, and in the old days the censorship was less onerous, if only because the tools weren’t up to censoring every word.
That founder effect was important – if you wanted to talk to your friends, you have to use a platform they also use. Greens like Chang took advantage of old Twitter management’s political and scientific bias to amplify their message to people who weren’t already followers.
But setting up a new, heavily censored “open forum”, and convincing people who don’t already agree with you to join, is going to be a real challenge for the climate censors.
Just look at the dismal performance of Facebook’s twitter clone Threads – interest is collapsing, despite the existing Facebook user base. As for Meta – I mean, what a disappointment. If you are into virtual avatars Second Life, Eve Online or World of Warcraft are far more interesting. Or at least, the graphics are a lot better.
In today’s crowded market, platforms where everyone sings from the same hymn sheet on important issues just aren’t interesting enough to attract people’s attention if they are not already involved, especially when there are more interesting discussion places like Musk’s Twitter competing for click space.