How to exploit social media to advance your nefarious plot to save the world (part deux)
Big tech and climate and you
Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think. If you like this newsletter, hit the ol’ subscribe, pls.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about using social media to advance the climate conversation. It was the lite, individual action approach to dealing with a behemoth problem. What’s the upstream approach? Burn it all down. Or at least break it up into itty bitty pieces no greater than the size of Mark Zuckerberg’s sunblock-shellacked head.
The deep wisdom of this Kevin Roose piece, given the result of the US election, should give us all a fright. Roose has been steadfastly sounding the alarm about Facebook’s content skew for years: Far-right content and misinformation pervade by a huge, huge margin. On any given day, you can expect an 80-20 or 90-10 split between far-right and centre/left sites. As my friend recently asked, what’s a Bongino? IDK! The far right is eating everyone else’s lunch, and breakfast, and dinner. And all their snacks, too. It doesn’t matter if Biden spent 8 to 1 on digital advertising if right-leaning lies are a million to one in earned (well, earned is a bit of an overstatement) in the other direction.
I’m not giving people who voted for Trump a free pass, but a look at what millions of people consume for hours a day on their socials provides some perspective. When combined with the robustness of right-leaning talk radio airwaves, we are seeing endless troughs of what I’d charitably call low-information content. It’s a deep sowing of untruths that can’t be uprooted with a few newspaper articles that debunk the lies. And it’s why a lot of the media analysis in the wake of this election seems off to me. THIS is the story. It all comes from here. This is where people get their information, bake it into their worldview, and serve it up to their friends and families and Facebook feeds. It’s horrible for the future prospects of a truth-based world. And it’s terrible for climate.
Like Roose, I’m a little obsessed with Crowdtangle. I use their climate tool to get a bead on what people are saying or not saying about the crisis on Facebook. It’s a sobering lens. People are not saying much. And when they do talk, there’s both deeply insubstantial and inaccurate content. It’s a giant pile of yikes.
How do we solve this? Sharing good content on our personal accounts isn’t enough. Reading it again now, it’s hard not to agree even more with Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’ breakup Facebook feature from last year. While there’s some hope that Biden will regulate big tech, and make it accountable/liable for content on their platform (!!!), it’s not one of his top four priorities. That said, by all indications, he’ll go much harder on tech than previous administrations. But I worry that we’re up against a tsunami of tstupidity. Sandbagging one outlet only helps so much.
Conservatives who don’t like the slightly increased fact-checking on Facebook and Twitter are switching to sites like Parler and Newsmax, where they can post misinformation with abandon. Which is why regulating big tech is less of a panacea, and more of a wee start in our quest to lance the lies.
What to read
Check out Influence Map’s damning report on the ubiquity of climate misinformation on Facebook.
Read Emily Atkin’s work on FB’s climate disinformation.
What to do
Sign this open letter to Facebook asking them to take a stand against climate denial groups.
Write to your elected leaders and tell them to advocate for checks on Big Tech.
THIS WEEK: SOCIAL ENGINEERING
What do you think about the spray of spurious social? LMK!
LAST WEEK: Positive-ish
Writes lovely Kathryn:
Two more reasons for hope: there are two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January. Georgia has Stacey Abrams to help organize and GOTV.
Overwhelmingly, Americans support better climate policies (like 70-30). We just have really bad messaging and the deniers have a lot of money to throw around bad info. It’s the same with healthcare. Apparently Democrats’ policies are really popular, but the Republicans still win because they scare people to death…
I wrote a comic on food waste for Yes! If food waste were a country, it’d be the third-largest emitter. Food for thought!
I’m looking for test audiences (in Canada) for a pilot project on climate communications. It’s a 45-minute talk designed for groups of 7-15 people, delivered online. Do you have a group that might like to participate? Your knitting club or Harry Styles fan club? Your grandmother’s pickleball club? Participants don’t need to know anything about climate. We’re expressly looking for people who feel they don’t know enough and want to know and do more. It’s free and fun and not too depressing, I promise! Message me for more information! Thank you.
Is it weird that I want Harry Styles’ pants?
Have a wonderful weekend!
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PPPS. As always, LMK me how I can make it better! Is it too long? too first-persony? too momjeansy? I’d like to mix it up, so please share.