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Climate disinfo surges in denial, conspiracy comeback

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Climate disinfo surges in denial, conspiracy comeback

Activists of Extinction Rebellion hold a ‘die-in’ for climate action in Boston in July 2022 – Copyright AFP/File Joseph Prezioso

Roland LLOYD PARRY

False information about climate change flourished online over the past year, researchers say, with denialist social media posts and conspiracy theories surging after US environmental reforms and Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.

“What really surprised us this year was to see a resurgence in language that is reminiscent of the 1980s: phrases like ‘climate hoax’ and ‘climate scam’ that deny the phenomenon of climate change,” said Jennie King, head of civic action at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based digital research group.

Popular topics included the false claims that CO2 does not cause climate change or that global warming is not caused by human activity, said Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD), a coalition of campaigners, in a report.

“Let me expose what the climate scam is actually all about,” read one of the most-shared tweets, cited in another survey by US non-profit Advance Democracy, Inc (ADI).

“It is a wealth transfer from you — to the global elite.”

– Twitter disinfo surge –

An analysis of Twitter messages — carried out for AFP by two computational social scientists at City, University of London — counted 1.1 million tweets or retweets using strong climate-sceptic terms in 2022.

Watchdogs are urging social media platforms to tackle climate disinformation – Copyright AFP Robyn Beck

That was nearly twice the figure for 2021, said researchers Max Falkenberg and Andrea Baronchelli. They found climate denial posts peaked in December, the month after Tesla billionaire Musk took over the platform.

Use of the denialist hashtag #ClimateScam surged on Twitter from July, according to analyses by CAAD and the US-based campaign group Center For Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).

For weeks it was the top suggested search term on the site for users typing “climate”.

CAAD said the reason for that was “unclear”, though one major user of the term appeared to be an automated account, possibly indicating that a malignant bot was churning it out.

ADI noted that July saw US President Joe Biden secure support for a major climate spending bill — subject of numerous “climate scam” tweets — plus a heatwave in the United States and Europe.

Climate denial posts also peaked during the COP27 climate summit in November.

– Blue-tick deniers –

A quarter of all the strongly climate-sceptic tweets came from just 10 accounts, including Canadian right-wing populist party leader Maxime Bernier and Paul Joseph Watson, editor of conspiracy-theory website InfoWars, the City research showed.

CCDH pointed the finger at Musk, who reinstated numerous banned Twitter accounts and allowed users to pay for a blue tick — a mark previously reserved for accredited “verified” users in the public eye.

“Elon Musk’s decision to open up his platform for hate and disinformation has led to an explosion in climate disinformation on the platform,” said Callum Hood, CCDH’s head of research.

Musk himself tweeted in August 2022: “I do think global warming is a major risk.”

Musk has also created a $100 million dollar prize for technology innovations shown to be effective in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But prolific climate change contrarians -– such as blogger Tony Heller and former coal executive Steve Milloy — have hailed him in their tweets.

– Conspiracy theories –

An analysis by Advance Democracy seen by AFP found the number of Twitter posts “using climate change denialism terms” more than tripled from 2021 to 2022, reaching over 900,000.

On TikTok, views of videos using hashtags associated with climate change denialism increased by 4.9 million, it said.

On YouTube, climate change denial videos got hundreds of thousands of views, with searches for them bringing up adverts for climate-denial products.

YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez told AFP that in response to the claim, certain climate-denial ads had been taken down.

TikTok and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

On Facebook, meanwhile, ADI found the number of such posts decreased compared to 2021, in line with overall climate change claims.

– Culture wars –

The CAAD report said climate content regularly features alongside other misleading claims on “electoral fraud, vaccinations, the COVID-19 pandemic, migration, and child trafficking rings run by so-called ‘elites’.”

Jennie King of ISD said: “We are definitely seeing a rise of out-and-out conspiracism. Climate is the latest vector in the culture wars.”

Given the reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing that human carbon emissions are heating the planet, raising the risk of floods, droughts and heatwaves, CCDH’s Hood emphasised the urgency of restricting the reach of misinformation.

“We would encourage platforms to think about the real harm that is caused by climate change,” Hood said, “so people who repeatedly spread demonstrably false information about climate are not granted the sort of reach that we see them getting.”

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More Generative AI Tools are Coming to Social Apps – Is That a Good Thing?

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More Generative AI Tools are Coming to Social Apps - Is That a Good Thing?

The latest developments in generative AI have opened up a range of new possibilities and potential use cases, But are we sure that there’s a value to them within social media apps?

Sure, there are some helpful, practical use cases like image editing for ad backgrounds, and creating optimized ad copy for varying purpose.

But for regular users, does generative AI really enhance the social app experience?

For years, people have complained about spam messaging polluting their DMs, and artificial engagement prompted by, say, anniversary and birthday updates. These types of posts feel disingenuous, non-engaging, and don’t really add value to the “social” experience.

But now, with Gen AI, social apps are trying to make such even more prominent, with almost every app now experimenting with different forms of generative AI, which can be used to create content that humans can then post to their profiles, cosplaying actual engagement.

LinkedIn, for example, has an AI post composer, which will write your updates for you in-stream, and Facebook’s also experimenting with the same, while X claims that, soon, you’ll be able to transfer responses from its Grok AI chatbot into your updates.

Why would people want that? Why would users want to post robot responses, and attempt to pass them off as their own thoughts and opinions?

Spammers and scammers will love it, no doubt, and engagement farmers will be keen to “optimize” their updates through these tools. But are those the types of posts that actually enhance social media interaction?

Of course, that’s seemingly an afterthought, because now you can create a profile image of yourself as an 18th century warrior. Isn’t that cool?

As a novelty, sure, that’s kind of interesting. But how many generative AI images can you create to depict yourself in different scenes before it starts to weigh on you that you’re not actually doing any of these things?

Social media, by definition, is “social”, which involves humans interacting with each other, sharing their own experiences, and the things that are filtering through their real human brain, in order to then feel more connected to the world around them. That’s been the universal value of the medium, building on books and movies in facilitating more understanding and connectedness, so we all feel less alone and more engaged with the world around us.

How do bot updates help with that?

And of course, this is all, inevitably, still going to get a lot worse.

LinkedIn says that it’s re-building its foundations around AI, in order to power “the next ten years of product development and innovation”. Which means more AI integration, and more bot-generated content, and as these tools continue to iterate on the latest trends, in order maintain relevance, they’ll also be training on more and more AI-generated updates that are flowing through their circuits.

Which means that AI tools will increasingly be powered by AI responses, diluting human input out of the process with every refresh.

The “social” aspect is becoming more automated, more stale, and less human with every such integration.

Of course, the counter is that people can already use AI tools outside of social apps anyway, so whether they’re integrated or not, they’re going to be utilized for the same purpose. Which is partly true, but still, adding them in-stream, making it easier for people to just tap a button to generate a response, seems like a step in the wrong direction either way.

That’s not to say that Gen AI tools are not useful. As noted, there are practical use cases for optimized, simplified tools that can complement human creation.

But bleaching humanity out of the source code is simply not a pathway to value.

And whether we realize it or not, the Gen AI shift is going to take far more significant turns yet.  

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3 Things You’ll Regret Not Knowing Before Buying Meta Platforms Stock Right Now

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3 Things You'll Regret Not Knowing Before Buying Meta Platforms Stock Right Now

It’s been a wonderful time to be a shareholder in Meta Platforms (META -0.43%). After hitting a low around the start of November 2022, the business has seen its shares skyrocket nearly fivefold (as of Feb. 20). Investor enthusiasm is through the roof.

Despite this monster performance, the FAANG stock, which is near its all-time highs, trades at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of just 23.5 right now. This might prompt you to rush to buy shares.

But before you do, here are three things you must know about this dominant tech giant.

Massive, but growing

Meta Platforms owns and operates some of the most popular social media services on the face of the planet.

Between its various platforms — like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Threads — the business counted a whopping 4 billion monthly active users (MAUs) as of the end of last year. This means that almost half of the world’s 8.1 billion people interact with a Meta digital property once a month. That’s hard to wrap your head around.

While it’s reasonable to assume the company can’t get any larger, it’s worth pointing out that MAUs were up 6% year over year in the fourth quarter. Because the U.S., Canada, and European markets are much more mature, Meta is finding success posting better growth in other geographies, like the Asia-Pacific region.

This massive scale has resulted in powerful network effects. The more users on a particular social media platform, the more valuable it is to users. Anyone can start a new app tomorrow, but it would be almost impossible to expand the way Meta’s services have, which protects its competitive standing.

Digital advertising is key

Providing free services to billions of users means that Meta, unsurprisingly, is a digital advertising powerhouse. Of the $135 billion in revenue it brought in in 2023, 98% came from selling ads. This puts it behind Alphabet in the global rankings when it comes to digital ad revenue.

Because of the valuable data Meta is able to extract from its gigantic user base, it’s no wonder that businesses of all sizes find it extremely effective to target audiences using the company’s platforms. The ongoing integration of artificial intelligence (AI) features will only improve this for marketers.

The downside is that the digital advertising market has shown itself to be somewhat cyclical. When interest rates rise, inflationary pressures persist, consumer spending gets pressured, and everyone is uncertain where the economy is headed, it makes sense that ad spending will be among the first thing that executives cut. Meta reported a 1% decline in revenue in 2022 thanks to these headwinds. However, things picked up in a huge way last year: Sales jumped 16%.

It also helps that digital ad revenue drove a fantastic 54% operating margin for the family of apps segment in Q4. Add this to Meta’s net cash position of $47 billion, and there should be zero concern about the business being able to navigate any unfavorable macro conditions.

Meta’s metaverse ambitions

Love him or hate him, credit goes to Meta’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, for building one of the world’s most valuable and dominant enterprises in just two decades. By being a forward-thinking innovator, he’s always trying to position the business for whatever tech shifts that might come.

Zuckerberg thinks that next shift could be the metaverse. As a result, he’s focused heavily on creating new hardware and software products in the hopes of attracting 1 billion users to spend and interact in virtual worlds.

He’s putting his money where his mouth is. Meta’s Reality Labs division posted an operating loss of $16 billion in 2023, and more losses are expected. And it doesn’t make much money, producing $4 billion in revenue combined in the last two years.

But given a proven track record of success, as well as vast financial resources from the company’s thriving social media apps, investors should doubt Zuckerberg at their own risk.

If you’re looking to scoop up shares of Meta, you now know three very important aspects of the business that can lead to a more informed decision.

Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Neil Patel has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Alphabet and Meta Platforms. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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X Expands Audio and Video Calls to Non-Paying Users

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New Report Finds That X May Be Inflating its Ad Performance Results

Look, I don’t know why this would be considered revolutionary or an advance, or even a significant step in any direction really. But for some reason, Elon Musk and his team believe that facilitating audio and video calls in X is a really big deal.

And now, it’s expanding its audio and video calling features to all non-Premium subscribers in the app, so you don’t even have to be a paying user to access the new connection options.

X launched audio and video calls with X Premium subscribers on iOS last October, then brought them to paying users on Android last month. And now, it’s expanding access once again.

But, like, you can already make audio and video calls on your phone, on WhatsApp, in Messenger, etc. Like, nobody is hanging out waiting to be able to make calls on X.

But Elon says that he’s getting rid of his phone number, because X will now replace his telecommunications, and given the reflexive head-nodding among his most dedicated disciples in response to his every utterance, no doubt many of them will also follow suit.

But I’m guessing not many other people will actually care.

But, if you do, soon, you’ll be able to kick off an audio or video call with your X connections, and there could be some value within that for brands that are looking to use the platform for customer service.

I suspect most X users won’t even notice, but for those who are conducting a lot of connection activity in the app, it is worth considering as a strategic expansion.



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