NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 19th, 2022

Netroots Nation 2022 — Day One — Featured Panel: Solving the Climate Crisis Starts with Combating Misinformation

Com­bat­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion and mis­in­for­ma­tion starts with track­ing where it is being spread and how far it’s reach­ing. That is the goal of Phil Newell and Alli­son Fish­er, two of Thurs­day after­noon’s pan­elists, at Media Mat­ters.

Fish­er used high gas prices attrib­uted sole­ly to Joe Biden as an exam­ple of how effec­tive far-right dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns can be. Although social media was the focus of the pan­el, Fish­er high­light­ed the role all forms of media play in spread­ing these nar­ra­tives. Tele­vi­sion, radio, and pod­casts often work to ampli­fy mis­in­for­ma­tion on social media and cre­ate buzz­words or memes. For exam­ple, what Tuck­er Carl­son says on air often becomes online mis­in­for­ma­tion quick­ly after.

Fish­er also not­ed that the most effec­tive dis­in­for­ma­tion con­nects to a sto­ry already estab­lished by bad actors. Gas prices were added to the idea that we need to keep our econ­o­my based on fos­sil fuels and that renew­able ener­gy pro­grams cause price increas­es.

This tac­tic is cou­pled with rep­e­ti­tion, which increas­es belief in false state­ments. The right is par­tic­u­lar­ly adept in this area. Zero­ing in on a nar­ra­tive or a lie, right-wing media often focus­es on a hand­ful of key talk­ing points, cre­at­ing buzz­words that can be used lat­er to imme­di­ate­ly illic­it anger or frus­tra­tion. Some exam­ples include the Key­stone pipeline, the Green New Deal, and cli­mate activist Gre­ta Thun­berg. Fish­er high­light­ed that the Green New Deal has become a catch-all for any cli­mate-relat­ed, or not-so-relat­ed, issue.

Both Fish­er and Newell dis­cussed the issue of data voids and how they con­tribute to the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion. Data voids describe the lack of reli­able media sources chal­leng­ing lies and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. This results in false nar­ra­tives pol­lut­ing pub­lic dis­course on cli­mate issues. Instead of let­ting the right car­ry these con­ver­sa­tions, the left needs to push back and open a con­ver­sa­tion about renew­able ener­gy and how it can lead to ener­gy inde­pen­dence.

Michael Khoo, chair of the Cli­mate Dis­in­for­ma­tion Coali­tion, focused his pre­sen­ta­tion on hold­ing social media out­lets and Big Tech respon­si­ble for the dam­age they have caused.

After Texas’ pow­er grid failed, leav­ing 4.5 mil­lion homes and busi­ness­es with­out pow­er, cli­mate mis­in­for­ma­tion regard­ing the issue spread quick­ly. Most notably, a pic­ture of a frozen wind­mill was post­ed to Twit­ter, lat­er being fea­tured on Fox News and retweet­ed by many com­men­ta­tors on the right. Khoo sights this as a clas­sic cycle: the oil indus­try cre­ates a cli­mate cri­sis and then blames the cri­sis on renew­ables. The biggest prob­lem with this pic­ture though is the real­i­ty that it was not tak­en in Texas. Even after this fact was proven, Face­book was unwill­ing to address the issue or take any blame for the mis­in­for­ma­tion on their plat­forms. Instead, when the Cli­mate Dis­in­for­ma­tion Coali­tion addressed the issue, Face­book was quick to blame its users for lack­ing media lit­er­a­cy. Khoo was quick to push back on this, not­ing that dis­in­for­ma­tion is designed to ampli­fy and con­sumers of this infor­ma­tion are also vic­tims.

The cli­mate coali­tion’s core the­o­ry is that “cli­mate dis­in­for­ma­tion on social media has giv­en cli­mate denial a new lease on life and pre­vents cli­mate action.” For this rea­son, they focus on hold­ing Big Tech account­able and trans­paren­cy from tech agen­cies. Khoo said that Big Tech should be reg­u­lat­ed like any oth­er indus­try, using exam­ples like the account­abil­i­ty car man­u­fac­tur­ers are required to take if one of their prod­ucts mal­func­tions and injures some­one.

This point was high­light­ed by all four pan­elists, par­tic­u­lar­ly using the exam­ple of a law­suit in the late 1990s against a tobac­co com­pa­ny. The tobac­co com­pa­ny ulti­mate­ly lost the law­suit regard­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion because of the dam­age that mis­in­for­ma­tion had on their con­sumer base. Pan­elist Shel­don White­house, US Sen­a­tor from Rhode Island, con­clud­ed by say­ing, “You can eas­i­ly take this com­plaint and replace tobac­co with hydro­car­bon.” Sen­a­tor White­house also said that pro­gres­sives need to pres­sure the Biden admin­is­tra­tion and the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to do exact­ly that by research­ing and inquir­ing about sev­er­al state law­suits that are mak­ing sim­i­lar claims.

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