A clip of celebrity podcaster Joe Rogan touting a conspiracy theory that links global warming to Earth’s magnetic field has gone viral on TikTok, despite the platform’s new policy prohibiting climate misinformation, a new report warns. It’s the latest report to highlight how Big Tech companies continue to fuel false and misleading claims about climate change online, an issue that some experts say has become a top threat to the global effort to curb rising temperatures.
The report, released last week by watchdog nonprofit Media Matters for America, identified seven TikTok videos promoting the so-called “Adam and Eve” theory, which purports without evidence that shifts in Earth’s magnetic poles have long caused massive swings in the planet’s climate and other catastrophic events of the past, including the floods referenced in the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark.
The videos, which garnered more than 20 million views on the popular social media platform between January and April, according to the report, include clips from a Jan. 18 episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, in which Rogan uses that conspiracy theory to downplay the climate crisis and calls efforts to address it “a moot point.”
Climate change is “this narrative that just gets repeated over and over and over and this fear mongering and everyone gets freaked out,” Rogan tells his guest, YouTuber Jimmy Corsetti, in the episode. “If the f***ing magnetic poles might shift and we might get hit by a giant rock from space, we might have bigger problems.”
Taken from a book written in 1965 by Chan Thomas, who worked in the aerospace industry and claimed to be a psychic, the “Adam and Eve” theory claims that Earth’s magnetic poles shift every several thousand years. That shift in turn causes cataclysmic events, Thomas claimed, such as tsunamis that destroy civilizations and drastically alter Earth’s geology. Thomas titled his book “The Adam and Eve Story,” hence the name of the theory.
According to the Media Matters report, the book was previously unavailable to the public until the Central Intelligence Agency declassified 57 pages of it in 2013. Since then, the book has fueled conspiracy theorists, some of whom believe today’s climate-related extreme weather is an indicator that Thomas’ claims are true and that a shift in Earth’s magnetic field is approaching, the report’s authors said.
But those claims don’t align with scientific evidence. In fact, NASA reports that major shifts in the planet’s magnetic poles have occurred several hundred times in the past 160 millions years, but that fossil records “show nothing remarkable, such as doomsday events or major extinctions.”
“It’s just unfortunate that these things are being put out there,” Martin Mlynczak, a senior research scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center, told The Verge in response to the Media Matters report. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And there’s no proof and no science and no physics behind any of the claims about the magnetic field change being associated with climate change.”
In April, TikTok announced it was ramping up enforcement of its new misinformation policy, which includes banning and removing any content about climate change “that undermines well-established scientific consensus, such as content denying the existence of climate change or the factors that contribute to it.”
But as of Tuesday afternoon, the videos identified by the Media Matters report have yet to be taken down by TikTok and they continue to garner major attention. One video, for example, had less than 11 million views when the report was released last week but now has more than 13 million views and over 930,000 likes.
TikTok didn’t respond to questions from Inside Climate News regarding the report or the videos that appear to violate the platform’s misinformation policy.
Climate activists and disinformation experts have been sounding the alarm for years about climate misinformation, which recent reports have shown remains rampant online despite promises from social media giants to address the issue. A report released late last year by an international coalition of environmental organizations and watchdog groups warned that Big Tech companies now pose a top threat to achieving meaningful climate action by amplifying inaccurate information about global warming and fueling political gridlock around efforts to transition to clean energy sources.
Those concerns were reiterated last week by an international panel of more than 200 researchers from 55 countries. On Wednesday, the group met in Washington, D.C., to present their findings after two years of studying climate misinformation online and efforts to curb it.
“Algorithmic bias, manipulation and misinformation has become a global and existential threat that exacerbates existing social problems, degrades public life, cripples humanitarian initiatives and prevents progress on other serious threats,” the panel wrote.
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