Deny, Deceive, Delay: Documenting and Responding to Climate Disinformation at COP26

Is a report published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a think tank monitoring extremism, and the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD)

It’s getting pushed in the Guardian, which forgets to link to it, and by deSmogblog, which summarises it thus:

They found that high-traction disinformation stemmed primarily from a very small number of individuals. In the month immediately before, during and after the COP26 climate summit, disinformation from just 16 “super-spreading” accounts, including known climate deniers and sceptics, amassed over 500,000 likes and retweets. The small group of pundits and political actors – including known climate sceptics Bjorn Lomborg and Patrick Moore – were said to be conflating climate with divisive “culture war” issues. Their narratives were circulated widely through social media, before being further amplified by traditional media.

Sasha Havlicek, CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) is quoted as saying: “This report clearly evidences the overlap between climate sceptic influencers and conspiracy, extremist and hostile state disinformation networks,” adding that both governments and social media companies were failing to stop the spread of climate disinformation.

And deSmog continues:

The new data-led analysis in the ISD-led report found that inadequate social media policies are to blame for misleading posts from this “small but dedicated community” of bad-faith actors reaching millions of people on social media. Repeat-offender climate sceptics were found to often spread misinformation on multiple topics, sharing misleading information on COVID-19 as well as conspiracy theories such as QAnon.

The Guardian adds:

Climate policy is being dragged into the culture wars with misinformation and junk science being spread across the internet by a relatively small group of individuals and groups, according to a study… The climate emergency – and the measures needed to deal with it – are in some cases being conflated with divisive issues such as critical race theory, LGBTQ+ rights, abortion access and anti-vaccine campaigns. The study… found that although outright denials of the facts of the climate crisis were less common, opponents were now likely to focus on “delay, distraction and misinformation” to hinder the rapid action required.

Among the tactics used were:

  • Elitism and hypocrisy: .. focus[sing] on the alleged wealth and double standards of those calling for action, and in some cases referenced wider conspiracies about globalism or the “New World Order”.
  • Absolution: absolv[ing] one country of any obligation to act on climate by blaming another… often China and India, claiming they were not doing enough so there was no point in anyone acting.
  • Unreliable renewables: call[ing] into question the viability and effectiveness of renewable energy sources.

The report found that the most prominent anti-climate content along these lines came from a handful of influential pundits… It said many “influencers” in this group originally came from a scientific or academic background and some were previously involved in the green movement. It added: “This allows them to present as ‘rationalist’ environmentalists and claim greater credibility for their analysis, while continually spreading the discourses of delay and other misinformation or disinformation…”

Jennie King, head of climate disinformation at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. said: “Governments and social media platforms must learn the new strategies at play and understand that disinformation in the climate realm has increasing crossover with other harms, including electoral integrity, public health, hate speech and conspiracy theories.

It’s all there, isn’t it? Hate speech, conspiracy theories, New World Order, QAnon, “hostile state disinformation networks,” anti-vaccine campaigns; plus the questioning of electoral integrity, critical race theory, LGBTQ+ rights, and abortion access. No wonder the Guardian wants to ban these people from the internet and is encouraging governments and international organisations to deal with them.

So who are these pundits, “many from a scientific or academic background and previously involved in the green movement”? I’ve been through the report, and found the following:

1) Social media accounts of Breitbart London, Spiked Online, Net Zero Watch, GB News and the Heartland Institute.

2) 16 accounts ‘super-spreading’ climate misinformation on Twitter “identified by Graphika” which “revealed 13 sub-groups, largely converging around anti-science and conspiracy communities in key countries (US, UK, Canada).”

There’s a link to Graphika, but not to the specific report, and I could find nothing about climate on their website, so the identity of the 16 accounts and 13 sub-groups remains a mystery. We know, however, that they include “individuals such as Michael Shellenberger, John Stossel, Bjorn Lomborg and Patrick Moore,” and that “engagement with content from these 16 accounts far exceeded the combined total from 148 other known sceptic and denial accounts on Twitter.”

However, another link on a separate subject (p14 “labelled by fact checkers”) leads us to this Forbes article which covers the same ground

Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, continues to host content from prominent anti-science climate change deniers despite claims that it would stop doing so, according to an investigation by non-profit activist group Avaaz. At the same time, search giant Google ran ads on 50 climate denial articles since the date it declared it would prohibit ads on such content, according to the non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate.

The article names John Stossel and Bjorn Lomborg, and mentions the fact that Stossel is suing Facebook, which may explain why both the Guardian and the report are rather shy about providing links that name names. Linking people like Shellenberger and Peterson with QAnon and hostile state disinformation networks might just be considered a wee bit defamatory. The report doesn’t mind throwing around terms like “Dark Web” and “repeat offenders” however:

Other key influencers fit into a broadly contrarian set, sometimes branded as the ‘Intellectual Dark Web.’” Under this heading we start to name names, namely Michael Shellenberger, Peter Boghossian, and Jordan Peterson.

Repeat offenders have often spread mis- or disinformation on multiple topics.
This is clearly observed in the number of high-traction accounts sharing misleading claims on both climate and COVID-19, but encompasses a wider range of issues – from anti- vaxx sentiment and genocide denial to conspiracies such as QAnon, The Great Reset and electoral fraud.

The rest of the report analyses tweets and posts during COP26 in fine detail, calling out Shellenberger, Jordan Peterson, Alex Epstein and Net Zero Watch for their huge numbers of likes. It’s rather dull stuff, simply suggesting different ways that media platforms, governments and international organisations might like to smash, crush and eliminate the likes of Shellenberger, Epstein and Peterson without going full Room 101, with rats eating their faces etc.

Who needs rats when you’ve got the Guardian, deSmogblog, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Climate Action Against Disinformation?

I

10 Comments

  1. Geoff, well at least they don’t name us as purveyors of climate misinformation – they couldn’t do so legitimately, since we don’t do that. Still, I’m not sure whether we should be pleased or offended. Maybe they don’t think we’re worth bothering with.

    Anyway, thanks for doing this. I mentioned it at Open Mic but didn’t get round to expanding on it. The bit that tickles me is that they claim that factual statements are misinformation. It’s a funny old world. More like 1984 every day.

    Like

  2. When asked why, if the case for climate emergency is so strong, members of the public should not be able to hear arguments from climate deniers, a spokesperson for the Climate Information Brigade said:

    “We do not think most of the public is intelligent enough to tell the difference between a true argument and a false argument, so they need protecting.”

    Asked if they had heard of Voltaire, the spokesperson replied:

    “It’s something to do with electricity. What about it?”

    Asked if they planned to demand the government ban the use of satire, the spokesperson said: “Huh? We don’t have an opinion on Scottish Independence.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. MARK
    They don’t mention us, or any of the more well-known climate sceptic blogs, because they know that, however hard the likes of Paul Homewood and Anthony Watts work, they’ll always be ignored by the mainstream media, while their 16 “super spreaders” have a media presence which can only be countered by outright banning, or attaching “misinformation” labels or whatever. Unless their critics actually stooped to arguing the facts of the case, which they’d never do course.

    I’ll have a further look at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the Climate Action Against Disinformation when I summon up the courage. All I know is their position in the media food chain; they only exist to be quoted by Guardian environment journalists, who only exist by quoting the likes of ISD and CAAD.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. liked the Forbes link to “David Vetter – Senior Contributor,Climate research, renewables and circularity”

    partial quote –
    “From April to November this year, Avaaz found that Facebook ran 136 posts from organizations with ties to the fossil fuel industry, including rightwing blogs PragerU and Turning Point USA, accumulating more than 61 million estimated views. In spite of policies designed to flag misleading or false claims, 88% of the posts went unlabelled by Facebook’s fact checkers.”

    “organizations with ties to the fossil fuel industry” !!! well that’s a game changer David.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Geoff, next up:

    “Sky News Australia is a global hub for climate misinformation, report says
    Murdoch-owned channel creates and distributes content promoting climate scepticism across the world, analysis finds”

    https://www.theguardian.com/media/2022/jun/14/sky-news-australia-is-a-global-hub-for-climate-misinformation-report-says

    “Australia’s Sky News channel has become a central source for climate science misinformation around the world, gaining high traction among conservative social media influencers and networks, according to a report.

    An analysis of a global network of climate science deniers and “delayers” and the content they shared found the News Corp Australia-owned channel was a key “content hub” for “influencers, sceptics and outlets”.

    The analysis, published by UK thinktank the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky News Australia consistently ranked highly for traction, pushing the partisan views of its hosts and guests to a global audience through social media networks.

    Sky News Australia said it rejected the findings of the report, saying it would “continue to encourage debate” on climate change in its programs.”

    Debate? About climate change? How shocking! As for “pushing the partisan views of its hosts and guests to a global audience”, isn’t that what the BBC often does?

    Like

  6. “Truthful climate reporting shifts viewpoints, but only briefly, study finds
    Ohio State University researchers gauged responses to climate science versus scepticism and suggest facts bear repeating”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/20/truthful-climate-reporting-shifts-viewpoints-but-only-briefly-study-finds

    Make of this what you will:

    “People’s views of the climate crisis can be influenced by the media, according to new research. But accurate scientific reporting only has limited impact on people who already have a fixed political viewpoint, particularly if it is opposed to climate action.

    Researchers who ran an experiment in the US to find out how people responded to media reporting on the climate found that people’s views of climate science really were shifted by reading reporting that accurately reflected scientific findings. They were also more willing to back policies that would tackle the problem.

    But the effect quickly faded, especially when people were exposed to other media that cast doubt on climate science, according to the paper, to be published on Friday in the peer-review journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

    I love the opening sentence. New research was needed to establish that? Who’d have thought?

    Liked by 1 person

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