Young girls like Lilly, who has been striking in her hometown of Utrecht, Netherlands, every Friday for the last year, are overwhelmingly leading a growing global movement to draw attention to the climate crisis. They spurred an estimated 4 million people across seven continents to walk out of work and school on September 20 — and they are getting attacked for it. They have faced a barrage of daily insults, seemingly coordinated attacks (like the one that targeted Lilly), creepy DMs, doxing, hacked accounts, and death threats. This is the new normal for young climate leaders online, according to BuzzFeed News interviews with nearly a dozen of the kids and their parents.
Personal attacks have always been a part of the climate denial playbook, even as fossil fuel companies secretly funded campaigns and researchers to question the scientific consensus on climate change. The most famous incident, 2009’s Climategate, involved scientists getting their emails hacked and then facing death threats. And as the politics of climate change begins to mirror the broader dark trends of global politics, weaponized social media — in the form of intimidation, memes, and disinformation — has emerged as the dominant vehicle for climate denial. But the rise of a new climate movement means there’s now a much more visible — and especially vulnerable — target: kids.