Online misinformation during extreme weather emergencies: short-term information hazard or long-term influence on climate change perceptions?


Extreme weather events linked to climate change are becoming more frequent. The online public discourse on and during these events, especially on social media, attracts misinformation that can undermine short-term emergency responses, but can also be aimed at influencing long-term public perceptions of climate change. This contribution reviews existing research on online misinformation with the aim to understand the types, origins, and potential impacts of misinformation during extreme weather events like storms, floods, and wildfires. The screening of 289 publications reveals that there is scarce body of only 13 studies addressing this question. Relevant studies exploring online misinformation during extreme weather events rarely document misinformation immediately relevant for emergency responses and only recently link this to the discussion about climate change. The reviewed research provides however insights to derive a framework that can guide future research into this topic. Specifically, that misinformation in social media during environmental emergencies 1) cuts across domains and merges different areas of public interest, 2) cuts across temporal and geographical scales, and 3) needs to be studied as part of an interconnected online media landscape. Misinformation differs between emergency event types, can undermine the debate about climate change in diverse ways, appeal to completely different audiences and thus will likely require different responses and countermeasures. Structured research with comparable methodologies is urgently needed.