Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Fake news about climate change… why is it still effective? | Science

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A report published by the American magazine “Mother Jones” presented climate-related news and misinformation and the reasons why this information dominates people's minds and spreads among them, and some ideas about how to combat it.

The report, prepared by Kate Yoder, news editor of Grist, a Seattle-based news website specializing in environmental and climate change issues, pointed to a consensus among scientists since 1995 that there is a “human influence” on Earth's temperature. Irreversible” effects and the burning of fossil fuels have disrupted the Earth's climate.

Yoder said that even 30 years after that warning, this year — the hottest on Earth in 125,000 years — the science isn't reliable, the threat isn't real, and people still argue that humans shouldn't intervene.

Recent research shows that understanding why people believe fake news can help them learn how to protect themselves from it, he said. He cited the views of American philosopher Andy Norman, who co-founded the “Mental Immunity Project” aimed at protecting people from misinformation, in which he said that people believe misinformation for a variety of reasons.

In Norman's words: People can ignore inconvenient facts when faced with arguments that support their beliefs, and the more they rely on useful beliefs at the expense of real beliefs, the more distorted their thinking becomes, and the more people's fascination with conspiracy. The theories are based on their sense that we are facing a great mystery behind the changing world. For example, those who believe in the theory that the Earth is flat believe they are seeing beyond the “delusions” of the majority. don't look

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The allure of fake news

Part of the problem, the writer explained, is the real appeal of fake news. A recent study published in the journal “Nature Human Behavior” found that misinformation about climate change is more convincing than scientific facts.

Researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland conducted an experiment on 7,000 people from 12 countries, including the United States, Nigeria and India. The experiment participants read a passage aimed at strengthening their mental defenses by reminding them of science. A consensus on climate change, scientists' credibility or moral responsibility, about behavior, for example.

Participants were then bombarded with 20 authentic tweets that blamed rising temperatures on the sun and the jet stream, talked about conspiracies about the “UN climate hoax” and warned that elites “like to eat bugs”.

A torrent of fake news

Neuroscientist Tobia Spambati, supervisor of the study at the University of Geneva, said that because the deluge of fake news has had a significant impact, scientific interventions have not been as successful as expected.

He explained that reading tweets about conspiracies led to a decrease in people's belief that climate change is happening, their personal support for action to reduce emissions, and misinformation more convincing than scientific facts.

The researcher attributed this in part to the fact that misinformation manipulates people's emotions, “making them angry at elitists who want you to eat insects, for example.” The only passage that helped people spot lies was the passage that prompted them to evaluate the accuracy of the information they were seeing, bringing some people back to reality.

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Reduced dose

Philosopher Norman said it's important that any intervention to curb the spread of misinformation comes with a “diluted dose” of this misinformation. For example, when the Biden administration learned of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war plans against Ukraine in late 2021, the White House began warning the world that Russia would spread a false narrative to justify war.

For climate change, the author said, this approach won't work. Decades of false propaganda funded by oil companies have already infected the public.

Emma Frances Bloomfield, a communications professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says, “It's hard to think of someone who hasn't been exposed to climate skepticism or misinformation from the fossil fuel industries.” is widespread.”

Values ​​and interests

Bloomfield believes misinformation spreads for a number of reasons, and it's not enough to tell its victims that there's a scientific consensus, “They doubt climate change because they doubt the scientific system. They're not making decisions based on the environment. On facts or science.”

Another reason is that climate change denial allows people to see themselves as heroes — as Bloomfield puts it — and that they don't have to change their behavior, and even see driving a gas-guzzling truck as part of destiny.

Bloomfield says those who spread doubt about scientific facts have big financial interests, such as fossil fuel companies, social media trolls and some countries, and “it's much easier and cheaper to spread doubt than to spread certainty.”

The author pointed out that oil companies — including Shell, ExxonMobil and BP — spent $4 to $5 million this year on Facebook ads related to social and political issues.

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Researcher Tobia Spampadi says the most direct way to combat misinformation is to prevent it from happening. While regulators have convinced social media platforms to prevent the spread of conspiracy theories and falsehoods, taking them down is a different story. A promising approach, “deep inquiry,” seeks to persuade people through one-on-one, nonjudgmental conversations.

Nadia Barnett
Nadia Barnett
"Award-winning beer geek. Extreme coffeeaholic. Introvert. Avid travel specialist. Hipster-friendly communicator."

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