The Rise in Climate Misinformation Requires An Urgent Tech and Brand Response

By Or Levi, Zefr, VP of Data Science

One only needs to look at recent events of this past summer in the U.S. and around the globe to appreciate the worsening effects of the climate crisis. Lethal heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, and other devastating events have become annual if not cyclical, frequently occurring events. There is both broad consensus in the scientific community as well as among the public around the need for global, concerted action for an unabating crisis that is human-caused.

Frustratingly, there still persists a stubborn faction of climate skeptics and denialists, who stand in the way of the change required to mitigate the challenge. What’s troubling is these skeptics have found new ways through online social media platforms to broadcast their beliefs by .  spreading mis(dis)information at an unprecedented rate across the most popular, open, and user-generated content dominant social platforms. Rise of misinformation across social media has only compounded the difficulty for the race against time to make sweeping changes and take action because it has introduced new formats at a speed and scale where false narratives and misleading science can flourish.

The broader crisis of misinformation in any form, and especially with regard to narratives around climate change, will require that tech platforms, advertisers, industry organizations and government work together to prevent the devastating impact that inaccurate information and the acceleration of a false reality can have.

The Virality of Misinformation 

As was the case in so many places this past summer, intense, dangerous, and even fatal heat waves in Arizona affected countless residents, but were downplayed by many Republican legislators and local officials through denialist comments and false claims both in person and online about the severity and the responsibility and expectations of government to address it. And if you are thinking that this is a uniquely American dynamic, focus your attention on the finger pointing seen globally in places like southern Europe and northern Africa, where wildfires in Greece, Italy and Algeria led to more than 40 deaths.

From outright denial to downplaying the seriousness of these human-caused natural disasters, to casting doubt around the efficacy of viable solutions, this all works towards the ultimate intended result of prolonged inaction. Some climate misinformation tactics include casting doubt on the types and efficacy of green technologies and climate or carbon capture solutions and stoking fears around how these solutions may be expensive and raise the cost of living for average Americans.

What Is Big Tech Doing About Climate Misinformation?

All too often, social media platforms have fallen short in enforcing their own policies related to climate misinformation. These shortcomings then metastasize into false claims veering into other topics (examples being COVID19 vaccines, the elections, etc.). The need for improved guardrails that ensure the defunding and demonetization of dangerous climate misinformation is urgent, and is a key part of the fight to stop the spread of false information that can stall much-needed progress.  While we appreciate the intentions of the social platforms to lead on this matter, we need them to step up enforcement and transparency thereof to prevent misinformation from spreading like wildfire.

What Are Brand Marketers’ Role?

Advertising today is no longer just about selling products. Brands now have a renewed responsibility to shape a more salutary ecosystem; this includes investing in platforms and leveraging technology that prioritizes factual information and drives responsible discourse. In a post-pandemic world, today’s CMOs must understand that brand values and integrity are front and center for customers. Taking a vocal stance on important social and political issues should be seen as positive long-term business investments that deepen affinity and loyalty with their consumers. At the same time, the social media and political landscape can seem challenging.

The algorithms and AI tools being used today to generate content, optimize for engagement, and drive the attention economy are often at the cost of truth and nuanced dialogue, and one can even draw a parallel to the damages caused by the fossil fuel industry itself.

Brands have the power to change the narrative by consciously aligning with platforms and adopting tools that mitigate misinformation and promote constructive fact-based dialogue, not only protecting the integrity of the brand, but contributing to a healthier information ecosystem. This double bottom line, doing well by doing good, has become increasingly important for consumers and stakeholders alike. Catastrophic effects due to climate change will only get worse and increase in frequency, therefore, how we respond to climate-related misinformation and disinformation is a moral imperative that is actually within our collective control as an industry.