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COVID-19 conspiracy groups could pivot to pushing climate change misinformation in 2022, experts warn

A protester holds a placard during the demonstration at Parliament Square, in London, on December 8, 2021.

Thomas Krych/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

  • COVID-19 conspiracy groups will pivot to pushing climate change misinformation in 2022, experts say.
  • They will frame climate policy as a “loss of civil liberties,” an expert told the PA news agency.
  • Conspiracy theorists are already using phrases like “climate lockdown” to spread misinformation, per PA.

COVID-19 conspiracy groups may pivot to pushing misinformation about the climate crisis in 2022, experts have warned, according to a Press Association (PA) report.

Those who already proliferate baseless conspiracy theories about vaccines and lockdowns could turn their attention to spreading misinformation about climate policy, said one extremism expert.

They will “frame” climate policy as a “loss of civil liberties and loss of freedoms,” said Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) think tank, during an interview with PA.

Phrases like “green lockdown” and “climate lockdown” are already being used, he continued, which refer to conspiracy theories that groundlessly state environmentalists will order global lockdowns to help reduce carbon emissions.

“That’s a merging of Covid worlds and climate disinformation worlds,” O’Connor said.

“The climate dialogue, rhetoric, and discussion are going to be rolled into that kind of civil liberties discussion, I think (that) is where you’re going to see a lot of these groups go,” he went on.

Another expert agrees that climate crisis conspiracy theories will have “more activity” in 2020. Jonathan Bright, an associate professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, told PA that people will be thinking about climate change misinformation “quite a lot.”

Telegram, a cross-platform messaging service, will likely host the evolution of these ideas by conspiracy groups, according to O’Connor. And the analyst added that the counter-narrative would have real-world consequences.

“Online actions have offline consequences,” O’Connor told PA. “What we’re seeing in relation to that idea… is the increased threat especially towards public health officials, towards politicians, and even towards frontline staff, people who are working to protect people.”

In November, ahead of the COP26 event, CBS News reported that climate change conspiracies were spreading rapidly on the internet. “We found that climate-change disinformation trends on social networks borrow from themes that were effective during the coronavirus crisis,”  said Blackbird.AI CEO Wasim Khaled, per the media outlet.

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