I spent 3 hours on Parler. Here's what I learned.
The new Mercer-funded "free speech social network" is no friend of the planet's, but Facebook and Twitter are still far bigger threats.
Is Parler the most disinformation-laden social network on the internet? Only time will tell, but it won’t be mine. I spent three hours yesterday browsing the rapidly growing “free speech platform” for conservatives, trying to figure out if it was becoming a source for unhinged climate denial. It wasn’t a very long time, but it was enough to figure out I did not need to go back.
Parler, for the uninitiated, is an app often described as the right-wing alternative to Twitter. It’s been growing in popularity since the presidential election, because it doesn’t fact-check. While platforms like Twitter and Facebook have been flagging and sometimes removing popular posts that contain lies about the election, Parler lets those posts run free. As Wired reports:
There are only two rules on Parler, the “free-speech” social network: First, nothing criminal. Second, no spam. Other than that, you can post what you want, the site advertises, “without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views.”
Parler has exploded since November 3, nearly doubling its user base from 4.5 million to 8 million, and has attracted many high-profile pro-Trump conservatives in the process, like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo, and Dan Bongino. News coverage of Parler has also been prolific in the last week, with most articles focusing on how it’s becoming a leading platform for election-related misinformation.
I wanted to see if Parler was becoming a platform for climate misinformation, too. So on Sunday, I made an account.
Parler’s climate accounts: few, unpopular, unfocused
The first thing I did on Parler was follow every account the site recommended to me. They were all people and institutions with a history of spreading climate denial. Ted Cruz. Sean Hannity. Kim Guilfoyle. Kirstie Alley. Devin Nunes. Dinesh D’Souza. The Daily Mail.
I then browsed through my new feed, which looks sort of like Twitter. But none of my followees seemed very concerned about climate. So I typed “climate” on Parler’s search bar, and went through the top accounts.
The first account was @Climate, which had nothing to do with climate change, but was actually just a general conspiracy theory-heavy pro-Trump account with 457 followers. The second account belonged to Climate Change Dispatch, a fairly well-known climate denier website. It has 334 followers and mostly re-posts its own dumb climate articles.
The next account belonged to Marc Morano, another fairly well-known climate denier. Morano has 509 followers on Parler compared to his 25,600 followers on Twitter. He also doesn’t seem to like Parler very much. Morano hasn’t posted since September, when he shared an article he’d written about climatologist Michael Mann calling Tucker Carlson a “racist fuck.” He got three “echos,” the equivalent of a retweet.
Of the next five climate accounts, the most popular was @ClimateSkeptic, aka “RealWeather,” which has about 1,300 followers. That’s not many followers, but it was the most I could find for a climate account, so I decided to take a closer look to see what type of climate content is resonating with Parler users.
What a “popular” Parler climate account looks like
According to his bio, RealWeather is a “retired meteorologist for NOAA and NASA” and “amateur radio operator and amateur astronomer” who lives in Pennsylvania. “I will challenge you if you employ logical fallacies,” his bio reads. “Real weather and no catastrophic anthropogenic global warming rubbish. There is no climate crisis!”
RealWeather does post things about climate change. Yesterday, for instance, he posted a picture of a piece of farm equipment with the caption: “Has anyone of the nitwits in favor of phasing out fossil fuels thought about how to power all of the farm machinery?! I strongly doubt it.”
A few months ago, he also reposted a meme that read, “It's cold out because it's Autumn, you dumb motherfucking Leftist cunts.” And RealWeather re-posts everything Michael Shellenberger writes, because of course he does.
But RealWeather’s posts are not exclusively climate-related. In May, he retweeted a racist meme about Congresswoman Maxine Waters, which called on users to “unseat Rubber Lips Waters.” He’s also been posting a lot lately about “blatant election fraud.” Last week he re-posted a meme from the Proud Boys, a male-only, neo-fascist hate group. And really, his climate posts aren’t his popular ones. The farm equipment one only got 6 echoes.
RealWeather is very happy about his popularity on Parler. Apparently, he was not getting as much love on Twitter.
In fact, in his most recent post, RealWeather said he and Twitter had (at least temporarily) parted ways.
Parler is a place where denial thrives and coexists
While it’s common to see prominent pro-Trump figures spouting climate denial on Twitter, it’s less common to see prominent climate deniers spouting explicitly pro-Trump rhetoric about election fraud, race, and immigration. But both phenomena are common on Parler.
The user @rneggy2 aka “ClimateInfidel,” for example, describes himself as “Debunking Anthropogenic (Man Caused) Global Warming for ~30 years.” And while he does post about that sometimes, most of his Parler posts are about how the election was rigged, how antifa is destroying the country, how masks are stupid, and how he’s having trouble posting on Parler.
On Parler, the relationship between coronavirus denial and election denial and climate denial is not subtle. Nor is the relationship between racism and climate denial; or nationalism and climate denial; or misogyny and climate denial. They are all part and parcel of the Parler user’s homogeneous identity.
On Parler, climate change is not a niche issue. It’s every issue. And every issue is a Democrat-created hoax. On that front, Parler users are united.
Climate disinformation on Parler does not concern me very much
Everyone who is on Parler is probably already a lost cause when it comes to climate change. This is a platform of largely conspiracy theorists, far more likely to fall into the category of people who are “dismissive” of the threat.
Convincing those people to accept science is very difficult—and also strategically pointless. They make up only 7 percent of the population. We do not need them to achieve meaningful action on climate change.
To achieve meaningful action on climate change, we need people who are disengaged, cautious, and concerned to become alarmed. Being alarmed is not difficult. It just requires a full understanding the science of climate change, and the consequences of waiting any longer to take action. Once you understand that, the situation is objectively very alarming.
Parler’s biggest threat to the planet is disinformation in general
The biggest threat Parler poses to the planet is not the climate disinformation it spreads. It’s the disinformation in general. Former President Barack Obama explained this well in a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg:
If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.
I can have an argument with you about what to do about climate change. I can even accept somebody making an argument that, based on what I know about human nature, it’s too late to do anything serious about this—the Chinese aren’t going to do it, the Indians aren’t going to do it—and that the best we can do is adapt. I disagree with that, but I accept that it’s a coherent argument. I don’t know what to say if you simply say, “This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up, and the scientists are cooking the books. And that footage of glaciers dropping off the shelves of Antarctica and Greenland are all phony.” Where do I start trying to figure out where to do something?
Every day we don’t take significant action to tackle climate change, the prognosis worsens for our planet. And every day we don’t take significant action to fight disinformation, the prognosis worsens for our democracy. Our ability to tackle climate change depends on the strength of our democracy. The strength of our democracy depends on the strength of our information.
Parler is not the primarily source of information for Americans, nor is it the primary source of disinformation. Those honors still belong to Facebook, Twitter, and Fox News. Parler only has 8 million users. Twitter has 330 million users; Facebook has over 2 billion users; and Fox News is the most-watched primetime news network in the country. All are allowing the president and his supporters to spread lies about the election, the climate, and everything else. Parler is a distraction. Let’s keep our eyes on the ball.
Bonus: Obama on the case for climate optimism
You’ll probably be seeing that Atlantic interview with Obama all over the internet today, so I just wanted to excerpt the portion where he talks about why he’s “optimistic” about climate change. I hear people need optimism sometimes. Wild.
Being optimistic doesn’t mean that five times a day I don’t say, “We’re doomed.” You would not be paying attention if you weren’t concerned about how in the heck we are going to get our act together in order to avert a climate disaster. … You can’t just blithely say, “Oh, we’ll figure this out” without taking a look at all the institutional, economic, structural, and psychological barriers to us solving those problems. You’re operating in fantasyland if you do that.
The point I’ve always made to Ta-Nehisi, the point I sometimes make to Michelle, the point I sometimes make to my own kids—the question is, for me, “Can we make things better?”
I used to explain to my staff after we had a long policy debate about anything, and we had to make a decision about X or Y, “Well, if we do this I understand we’re not getting everything we’re hoping for, but is this better?” And they say yes, and I say, “Well, better is good. Nothing wrong with better.” …
The discussion I had with Ta-Nehisi typically revolved around the basic belief that, in fact, things had gotten better. This is not a cause for complacency but rather a spur to action. It doesn’t mean that things can’t get worse, either.
If you’d like another perspective, you can read my case for climate pessimism here.
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Stay hydrated, eat plants (I like bananas), do push-ups, and have a great day!