Automated bots generated one-quarter of all tweets about climate change, possibly creating the impression that skepticism about the crisis is more common than it is, according to a Brown University study, the Guardian reported.

According to a draft of the survey seen by the Guardian, Brown researchers examined 6.5 million tweets posted around the time President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the U.S. would leave the Paris climate accords. They found that the bot-generated posts tended to applaud the decision and spread misinformation, according to the Guardian. 

“These findings suggest a substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages about climate change,” the Guardian quoted the draft as saying.

The report is likely to fuel concerns that social media is being manipulated to spread fake news and maliciously influence public opinion about politics and hot-button topics like the coronavirus epidemic. Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and especially Facebook have been scolded by politicians, activists and news organizations to do more to stop the spread of false information. 

Stephan Lewandowsky, an academic at the University of Bristol, told the Guardian that his own research into online climate posts indicates that readers mistakenly spread misinformation, giving it credibility, when they see how widely it is shared by others.

“The more denialist trolls are out there, the more likely people will think that there is a diversity of opinion and hence will weaken their support for climate science,” he told the newspaper.

The study doesn’t name people or groups behind the Twitter bots, the Guardian reported. On some specific climate topics, the bots were even more active, being responsible for 38% of tweets about “fake science,” according to the study. Conversely, the researchers say they found that posts that supported action on the climate crisis were generated by bots only 5% of the time. 

  • Columbia University researchers said in December that they found dozens of “mysterious, partisan local news sites” set up within the last year aimed at “manipulating public opinion” and exploiting public trust in local news media. While the suspicious sites didn’t disclose their sources of funding, the researchers linked them to partisan political campaigns and lobby groups. 
  • Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram failed to make good on efforts to eliminate fake news and clicks in an investigation last year run by the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, an independent organization that advises the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The group paid service providers for fake clicks, likes and followers for 105 different posts on the four sites and after four weeks that 80% of the inauthentic engagements were still online.