Almost half of "Environmental Twitter" has vanished from the platform now called X, new research shows. A wave of "environmentally oriented" users abandoned the site after Elon Musk took over, according to a study published this week in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution. The study confirms fears about how Musk’s leadership might quell climate discourse and scientific research on the platform. Before he took the wheel, Twitter was an important tool for environmental researchers and activists alike.
The loss of this once vibrant community on X has significant implications. It represents the disappearance of an online ecosystem that has yet to be fully replaced by another platform. This void could have detrimental effects on conservation efforts and climate action, as warned in the paper. The research, led by Charlotte Chang, assistant professor of biology and environmental analysis at Pomona College, analyzed Twitter activity from July 2019 to April 2023. The team identified 380,000 users who frequently discussed climate change and biodiversity conservation, collectively known as "Environmental Twitter." By April, only 52.5 percent of those users remained active, posting at least once every 15 days. In comparison, only 20.6 percent of a control group of users discussing the 2020 presidential election went inactive during the same period. The decline in active users was particularly pronounced following Musk’s acquisition of the platform in October 2022. This trend aligns with other issues that have arisen on Twitter since Musk’s involvement, including an increase in climate misinformation and hate speech. The situation has prompted some prominent figures within the environmental community, such as climate scientist Peter Gleick, to migrate to alternative platforms like Mastodon, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Additionally, Twitter’s new API pricing has made it difficult for researchers to access data, further diminishing its value as a space for monitoring public discourse and engaging with the public. A recent survey conducted by Nature also revealed that half of the 9,200 scientists who responded have reduced their time on X in the past six months, with many joining alternative social media platforms like Mastodon. In light of these findings, the study suggests that efforts should be made to migrate former members of Environmental Twitter to a new platform, ensuring continued opportunities for information exchange, mobilization, and research.
Almost Half of "Environmental Twitter" Has Vanished on Platform X, Study Shows
A recent study published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution reveals that nearly half of the "Environmental Twitter" community has disappeared from the platform now known as X. This decline in active users occurred after Elon Musk took over, leading to concerns about the impact on climate discourse and scientific research. Before Musk’s leadership, Twitter was an essential tool for environmental researchers and activists.
Lead author Charlotte Chang, an assistant professor of biology and environmental analysis at Pomona College, explains that the research aimed to understand how changes in Twitter’s governance would affect the vibrant community engaging in discourse around environmental topics. Unfortunately, the study found that this once vibrant community has significantly diminished on platform X, leaving a void that has not been adequately replaced by another platform. The loss of a central gathering place for environmental discussions could have negative consequences for conservation efforts and climate action.
The research team analyzed Twitter activity from July 2019 to April 2023 and identified 380,000 users who frequently discussed climate change and biodiversity conservation, collectively known as "Environmental Twitter." By April, only 52.5 percent of these users remained active, posting at least once every 15 days. Comparatively, a control group dubbed "Politics Twitter," consisting of individuals engaged in discussions about the 2020 presidential election, had a much lower drop-off rate of 20.6 percent.
The decline in active users was particularly pronounced after Musk’s acquisition of the platform in October 2022. Since then, Twitter has faced various issues impacting scientists and environmental advocates. Musk allowed previously banned accounts that spread climate change misinformation to return, resulting in a doubling of tweets using the hashtag #climatescam. Hate speech has also increased, leading to X Corp. suing a group that published a report documenting this trend.
Furthermore, Musk’s changes to the platform have hampered academic research relying on Twitter data. Researchers were priced out when X began charging exorbitant fees for access to its API. With fewer users remaining on the platform, it has become less valuable for monitoring public discourse and engaging with the public.
A recent survey published in Nature supports these findings, with half of the 9,200 scientists who responded reporting reduced time spent on X in the past six months. Approximately 46 percent of participants have joined alternative social media platforms, with Mastodon emerging as a popular choice.
The study suggests that it is crucial to identify where former members of Environmental Twitter have migrated and potentially launch a campaign to migrate users to a new platform. This effort would ensure continued opportunities for information exchange, mobilization, and research.
When The Verge reached out to X for comment, the response was a vague promise to reply soon, replacing the previous standard reply of a poop emoji. The lack of a substantive response highlights the challenges faced by those concerned about the decline of environmental discourse on platform X.
In conclusion, the study’s findings underscore the significant impact of Elon Musk’s leadership on the decline of the "Environmental Twitter" community. The loss of this vibrant online ecosystem raises concerns about the future of climate discourse and scientific research. It is crucial to find alternative platforms that can foster information exchange, mobilization, and research to fill the void left by the exodus from X.