QAnon celebrates Musk takeover, pseudoscience at the Bundestag, and Chevron greenwashing

Isobel Cockerell



Germany’s right-wing populist party, AfD, is putting pseudo-experts on display in official settings, giving credibility to scientific disinformation. The party has given these “experts” a platform during German parliament committee meetings to deny climate change and spread covid misinformation. Parliamentary party groups get to determine who they consider to be experts. “The problem is always that people who don’t come from the field at all and don’t even work scientifically in the field get a voice. And they are then put on an equal footing with real experts,” climate researcher Mojib Latif told Tagesschau.

QAnon conspiracy theorists are very excited about Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover. “They think they will be unbanned and can reach normies again with their theories,” journalist Stuart A. Thompson tweeted. “We cannot disregard the importance of Elon getting control BEFORE the midterms,” one QAnon influencer wrote, hailing the prospect of being reinstated on Twitter. “The timing is simply too perfect to be an accident.” I took a look at the Telegram “truth pills” conspiracy group I follow — the sentiment was the same. “We have literally been digitally herded into a sheep pen, an echo chamber and censored into obscurity,” the channel’s owner wrote, while others readied themselves for a return to the bird website. 

Anti-trans activists strike again, and this time they’ve targeted Latino voters in Colorado. Spanish-language pamphlets with anti-trans messages are arriving in the mailboxes of voters ahead of the U.S. midterm elections. The mailers allegedly come from the America First Legal Foundation, which is run by former Trump aide Stephen Miller, architect of some of the previous administration’s most draconian immigration policies. Typical anti-trans messages in the flyers include references to the removal of healthy genitals and deliberate falsehoods. “Joe Biden and progressive politicians and their leftist allies in government are promoting radical and irreversible gender experiments on children,” the flyers assert.

“We knew this was disgusting propaganda,” a Colorado voter who received the mailer told reporters, suggesting it was sent to her and her husband “because we both have Hispanic last names.” These targeted messages appear to be part of a larger trend of Spanish-language misinformation in the U.S., particularly on social media where significantly fewer resources are devoted to combating misinformation in languages other than English.


“Why on earth would anyone start a new media company now — in this economy?” My friend, a CNN producer, was side-eying the launch of Semafor, a news organization founded by former Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith and former New York Times journalist Ben Smith (no relation). Of course, at Coda, which soon turns seven years old (legacy media, here we come) we’ve heard the CNN producer’s refrain, and variations on the theme, all too often.

But there were high hopes for Semafor, founded with the modest intention of restoring public trust in the media. The site and its array of newsletters were launched last week with maximum fanfare, to the tune of $25 million in investor funding (we’re not bitter, honest), and the promise they would do things differently from the traditional news media.

Given the outlet’s stated mission, I was disappointed when it transpired that Semafor’s Climate newsletter was sponsored by…Chevron. You know Chevron, one of the world’s biggest oil corporations that’s reported record profits thanks to rising oil prices to become the Dow’s best performing stock this year. “We’re working toward a lower-carbon future,” the Semafor Chevron ad runs, accompanied by a cute picture of a cow’s nose. “At Chevron, we’re working with partners in California to convert the methane from cow waste into renewable natural gas.”

It reminds me of the spoof Chevron ad by “Don’t Look Up” director Adam Mckay, featuring cheesy footage of animals, babies and birds. “We at Chevron believe that nothing is more precious than life. And that the most precious life of all, is the dead kind, that has been compressed for hundreds of billions of years, until it becomes oil — oil that we can refine and sell as gasoline.”

The real Chevron ad on Semafor’s Climate newsletter caused outrage and disappointment across the media-watching Twittersphere. “Beyond parody,” wrote blogger Jack Mirkinson. “Outlets that purport to be part of the political middle seem to not be adequately fact-checking the claims of oil and gas companies that advertise in their climate newsletters,” wrote Gizmodo reporter Molly Taft.

The most in-depth criticism of the sponsorship deal was by HEATED newsletter writer Emily Atkin, who highlights how Chevron’s campaigns in the 1980s spread climate science denial. She describes how Chevron’s “lower carbon future” campaign on Semafor’s newsletter is misleading readers into thinking the company is effectively fighting climate change. “‘Lower carbon’ means almost nothing to the second biggest carbon polluter in the world,” Atkin writes, before explaining that turning cow waste into “renewable natural gas” is “not renewable, not natural, and not a large-scale climate solution.”

Biomethane, while made from natural waste, is still methane — a greenhouse gas that damages the climate. Atkin also described how Semafor refused to engage with her when she challenged them on the sponsorship deal. She told me that she asked Semafor whether it was “selling advertisers on opportunities to spread misinformation on its platform.” Cue crickets.

“Can you tell me how you, and Semafor, justify taking money from fossil fuel giants to sponsor a newsletter about the climate? The Semafor project was started with the aim of rebuilding public trust in the media, but how does this sponsorship deal align with that?” I asked Semafor in an email.

The response I got from their spokesperson, Meera Pattni read: “Advertisers have no bearing on our editorial coverage and we maintain a strict separation between news and third-party advertisement.” 

The subject of this week’s edition of the Semafor newsletter, also sponsored by Chevron? Greenwashing.


  • This investigation by our editorial partners at Lighthouse Reports. Alongside Bellingcat, they created a vast, searchable, interactive database of social media posts by QAnon adherents in the U.S. and western Europe — meaning researchers and journalists can easily identify trends and expose the architecture of this shadowy world of conspiracy theorists.
  • And don’t miss the latest offering from Serial and the New York Times, We Were Three. It’s a chilling story about a family destroyed by Covid lies and conspiracy theories, and it’s well worth your time.