The story is so familiar now that one would have thought it hardly needs retelling: For many years the scientists (i.e. those who have always been in direct contact with the truth) have been telling us that if we continue down the road of using fossil fuels then we are destined to destroy the planet. Even so, it took a mere demi-god moving amongst us in the body of a child to shame the governments of the world into taking notice and, although there is still much more that needs to be done, at least the correct way forward is now well-defined. Nevertheless, the road is still a difficult one to take, not because it is technically impracticable or prohibitively expensive, but because there are still those voices — ill-informed and ill-willed – who would use lies and trickery to tempt and beguile the virtuous into taking a different road. The road that they want the world to take is one in which self-interest and ignorance still prevail. Put simply, this is a fight between the enlightened good and the foolish bad.
Of course, familiarity has got nothing to do with anything. This is a damned good yarn that is bound to appeal to anyone who cares about the future and who can readily believe the worst of mankind. Furthermore, it is self-confirming. The only ones who could possibly question it must be the foolish and bad to which it refers.
The reason why I have dwelled upon this state of affairs is because it is the only possible backdrop within which the BBC could get away with an article that excoriates an organisation for giving succour and encouragement to those amongst us who have chosen to trick, tempt and beguile the righteous. Yes you know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about you, Facebook. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. So says the BBC – or to be more accurate, the ‘human rights body’, Global Witness.
The qualified need not apply
It becomes obvious that the BBC thinks itself to be on very firm ground covering this sort of thing when one looks at its choice of expert journalist, a lady called Merlyn Thomas who, as is customary with the BBC nowadays, carries the title du jour of ‘Climate Disinformation Reporter’. This immediately brings to mind an individual who is so well-versed in the technicalities of the science and politics of climate change and energy production that there couldn’t possibly be any room for doubting what she has to say on the matter. And yet, it transpires, all you need to have, as far as the BBC is concerned, is a degree in French and Arabic and a journalistic background almost entirely devoted to writing on matters of civil rights and social justice. It appears that technical prowess isn’t actually a required qualification for telling this particular tale, but a degree in bilingual effrontery is. So let us take a look at what that particular skill-set has brought to the table.
The wrong sort of nudge
Merlyn wastes no time in conjuring up the effrontery in her opening paragraph:
“Facebook pushes climate sceptics towards increasingly extreme disinformation and conspiracy groups, a human-rights body’s research suggests.”
Notice here, not just ‘extreme’ but ‘increasingly extreme’. Also, viddy well, brother that this is a human rights issue. Her second paragraph explains it all:
“A report released Wednesday by Global Witness found Facebook’s algorithm amplified doubts rather than nudging people towards reliable information.”
Yes, folks, it’s all down to an algorithm, but not one of those innocent ones like the one you use to do a binary search. No, this is an evil one that amplifies doubt, which is (of course) the binary alternative to reliable information. And you will note that it took a ‘human rights body’ to notice this wicked little detail. But how?
Well, according to Merlyn:
“Researchers created two users – climate sceptic ‘Jane’ and ‘John’ who followed established scientific bodies. They then tracked what Facebook’s algorithm suggested to both accounts.”
Ah, researchers; I might have known. They are damned good those researchers. Anyway, this is what they found:
“Jane soon saw content denying man-made climate change, including pages calling it a ‘hoax’ and attacking measures to mitigate its effects…From these beginnings, over a period of about two months, Jane was recommended more and more conspiratorial and anti-science content, researchers say.”
Yes, I get it – “researchers say”. But what about my namesake, John?
“Meanwhile, John’s account began by liking the page of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations scientific body.”
I should sue, of course. But anyhow…
“And in contrast to Jane, John was consistently shown reliable science-based content.”
Ah yes, but did researchers say? If researchers didn’t say, then I’m not sure I should believe this.
What will become of me?
I’ll spare you the gory details of what Jane had to put up with, although Merlyn’s article was less circumspect, including as it did ‘extreme disinformation’ such as ‘Heat spells are not new’, an example of blatant disinformation against which the BBC were very keen to slap a great big red ‘False’.
The rest of the article was full of Facebook’s feeble protestations of innocence, which were roundly dismissed by Global Witness:
“Facebook has repeatedly said it wants to combat climate disinformation on its platform – but our investigation shows how worryingly easy it is for its users to be led down a dangerous path that flies in the face of both science and reality. Facebook is not just a neutral online space where climate disinformation exists – it is quite literally putting such views in front of users’ eyes.”
As the globe is my witness, there is nothing worse than views that are put in the front of your eyes. The ones at the back are pretty bad but the full frontal ones are just so hard to avoid. And to think that Facebook is ‘quite literally’ doing this – putting views in the front of eyes – is really quite a shocking disclosure for a company that has the words ‘face’ and ‘book’ in its name.
But Merlyn knows what the real issues are here. She chooses her closing quote very carefully:
“The climate crisis is increasingly becoming the new culture war, with many of the same individuals who for years have sought to stoke division and polarise opinion now viewing climate as the latest front in their efforts.”
Who are these individuals, I’d like to know.
Oh God! I’ve just had a thought. You don’t suppose it could be me, do you? Am I that cultural warrior? A division stoker, an opinion polariser? Is this my latest effort? And what next might I have up my sleeve? I am become death, perhaps?
Let’s hope not. It’s only a game after all.