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Meet the trollhunters who got 600 climate change deniers banned from Twitter

TNT have managed to suspend 600 key disinformation accounts on Twitter
TNT have managed to suspend 600 key disinformation accounts on Twitter Copyright Flickr
Copyright Flickr
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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Digital activists spoke to us on the condition of anonymity due to the daily threats they receive.

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What does a scientist based in Germany and an office worker in Canada have in common? They both share a passion for hunting down climate change deniers on Twitter.

Peter and Tom are part of a group of online activists dubbed the Team Ninja Trollhunters (TNT). Created in 2019, their mission is to fight climate change trolls on Twitter.

Who are the Team Ninja Trollhunters?

There are approximately 25 active members of TNT around the world and they all operate anonymously, according to members of the group. 

The average age is around 40 and half of the members have a scientific background. Tom, for instance, is a climate educator based in Germany and the person behind the fact-checking account The Disproof

They have asked Euronews Green not to reveal their identities due to the abuse and countless threats they have received.

What do the trollhunters do?

These 'trollhunters' used to look for viral tweets or prominent accounts on Twitter which were spreading climate disinformation and respond to them by debunking their claims using factual information and scientific articles.

But the group soon had to switch tacticsClimate change denial is not forbidden on Twitter, however other types of content - threats, harassment and hate speech - are. 

That’s exactly what TNT goes after to get climate change deniers suspended. 

"Misinformation or disinformation doesn't matter as much to Twitter. But if you're being racist, hateful, misogynist and so on, those are definitely reportable and we focus on these," explains Peter, a clerk and climate activist who has found his niche on Twitter based in Western Canada.

Trollhunting can be a delicate affair. TNT members are told not to engage directly with those they're targetting to avoid getting suspended.

"Don't waste your time. They want to hook you and spend an hour confusing you, because that's what trolls want," explains Peter.

"I'm not trying to convince the troll. Most of the time, trolls don't have any facts. They have doubt, disinformation, division, confusion."

"Don't waste your time. They want to hook you and spend an hour confusing you, because that's what trolls want"
Peter, member of TNT

'We're trying to protect people that are vulnerable to believing this kind of stuff'

Tom echoes his colleague's vision on who their target is on Twitter. "A large chunk of people on Twitter, just read tweets. We're trying to catch people who may be tricked into believing the misinformation spread by trolls. We're trying to protect people who are vulnerable to believing this kind of stuff."

They claim that as a result of their actions about 600 Twitter accounts promoting climate change denial have been suspended.

"One thing we often get accused of is how we decide what's right and wrong? But science doesn't lie. Climate change will impact all of us. Your political ideology has no effect on the evidence or on physics," explains Tom, the scientist and educator based in Germany.

Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter is not good news for climate action

But since Elon Musk took over Twitter and reinstated many previously banned accounts, things have changed a lot. 

"After Musk took over, some of the other founders of the group are no longer active on Twitter. They were not particularly happy about the fact that all the accounts that we managed to get rid of for spreading misinformation were straight back on. It was four years of work removing these 600 key accounts that were causing damage," says Tom. 

Tom and Peter describe Twitter’s new policies when it comes to content moderation as "depressing" but they insist their online battle to provide people with the truth about climate change will continue. 

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"We soldier on because we understand that's also part of the game the deniers play. They'll always be at you. They'll always be trying to tell you to quit, and you can't because the future is at stake for everybody," says Peter.

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