In an increasingly digital age, it’s easier than ever to have all the information you could possibly need in the palm of your hand. There are plenty of credible sources to look to on just about any subject of interest; however, social media makes it easy to get swept up in loops of misinformation. When it comes to climate change, the sea of misinformation can lead people down pretty dangerous paths. One of the worst misinformation traps lies in the dark realm of far-right extremists, who often prey on impressionable individuals and feed them the worst of their ideology. You might think people on the far-right all agree that climate change is a hoax. This isn’t entirely the case. Some far right extremists have what they find to be a “solution” to climate change, and it’s ecofascism.
Ecofascism: a typically far-right ideology that blames the demise of the environment on overpopulation, immigration, and over-industrialization. This ideology is what inspired both the El Paso and Christchurch shooters. Both of these murderers are white supremacists, and believed immigrants to be the root cause of environmental decline and degradation among other issues in “the modern world.” The looming threat of the climate crisis on top of concerns of scarce resources creates a perfect storm for ecofascists and white supremacists to further a xenophobic agenda under the guise of environmental consciousness. The ecofascist “plan” to solve climate change is literally genocide. These ideals are far from what climate justice looks like. Due to the nature of social media and how easily misinformation can spread, some of this ideology has unfortunately seeped through the cracks and found its way into other more mainstream internet spheres.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals on all ends of the political spectrum began sharing how rivers were clearing, air pollution levels were low, and carbon emissions had slowed.
“Earth is recovering, Coronavirus is the Earth’s vaccine. We are the virus,” one tweet read. A drop in overall emissions is noteworthy, but it is not enough to stave off climate change. The idea that “humans are the virus” is also far more harmful than it seems. Painting the immeasurable loss of people across the globe as a climate or environmentally friendly solution is incredibly problematic, giving into fascist beliefs. This is just one example of how ecofascist rhetoric infiltrated more mainstream discussion and how just about anyone can unintentionally fall for these harmful talking points. Being mindful of where you get your information and fact checking via trusted sources when you can is crucial, especially if it means shutting down white supremacist ideology.
The spread of misinformation isn’t an issue unique to the political right. It can easily be spread by anyone; be it on social media, simply by word of mouth, or both. Misinformation can cause problems for the climate movement, but there is also a dual issue of disinformation, or the sharing of intentionally misleading information. The biggest culprits of spreading climate disinformation is the fossil fuel industry itself. Fossil fuel companies have played a major hand in preventing climate action, as it would kill their grossly profitable (and harmful) industry. These companies put on a facade of being climate conscious and eco-friendly by branding themselves as such. Industries like big oil even invented the concept of greenwashing, and they frequently utilize it to their advantage. By using greenwashing as a tool to deflect accountability, they further a narrative that climate change is the fault of consumers. This only confirms how corrupt and unwilling to change these corporations are.
What do we do about misinformation on social media if it’s spread appears inevitable? The answer is still somewhat unclear, but social media platforms have taken steps to begin addressing this problem. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have started tagging posts as misinformation, but their new “fact checkers” aren’t as all encompassing as they should be, and do next to nothing to target disinformation. Facebook now has a dedicated “Climate Science Information Centre” and states they reduce visibility of posts with questionable climate claims. Despite the creation of this resource and its information backed by the IPCC and the UN, Facebook is still slow to combat and remove misinformation on their platform and allows deniers to scoot around these new policies by calling their false ideas on climate “opinion.” Facebook allows climate deniers to speak freely while they unjustifiably suspend climate activists from their platform at the same time. So who are these fact checkers? Who says their sources are entirely backed by science and unbiased while they’re employed by Facebook? If fact checkers on Facebook are groundlessly suspending groups that work to inform people on the dangers of the climate crisis, are they to be trusted?
Distrust of mainstream media and the government makes the issue of combating misinformation and disinformation even more complicated.
Social media platforms have taken some small steps by flagging misleading posts, but these efforts need to work harder to create a concrete system that doesn’t excuse blatant misinformation as “free speech.”
With industries like big oil fueling disinformation campaigns and social media platforms doing the bare minimum to combat the spread of misinformation, we need to stay aware and vigilant. It can be disheartening to feel like there is no true solution to ending the issues of misinformation and disinformation regarding climate, and these issues obviously won’t disappear overnight. It will take an expansive effort to try and tackle the biggest culprits of the issue.
Luckily, there are many climate organizations that strive to hold polluting industries accountable and fact check their inaccurate claims or contradictory commitments. These organizations are a great resource to look to for more accurate news and updates regarding climate. However, it’s also important to be aware of how all kinds of ideologies can find their way to your feed. The widespread nature of misinformation can push people down dark rabbit holes and discourage them from ever finding a way out. Ecofascism and other far-right ideas can show up anywhere, and just about anyone can fall for their rhetoric if they aren’t diligent. Having an awareness of these issues is only step one. Stay inquisitive. Don’t always accept ideas at face value.