The Climate Hoax Movement on New Media

Among the topics for our class blog, the issue that Khri and I have tracked is unique. In contrast to the social issues of the rest of the class, the reality of climate change is one that has been decided by empirical facts about the natural world. Setting aside extreme arguments like epistemological anarchism that question the authority of science in general, the reality of anthropogenic climate change is well established. In the absence of any political opposition, it would likely have been accepted as a fact without controversy. But anthropogenic climate change has become highly politicized because of the massive implications it has on the way we live in a capitalist society driven by consumption.

Given that background, the way in which new media is affecting the climate hoax conversation may be seen as an example for how the new media environment influences issues that depend on objective facts.  With this in mind, I found Jay Rosen’s article “Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press” ironically relevant. In the article, Rosen argues that new media will help democracy by mixing up the spheres of consensus, deviance, and legitimate debate.

spheres

Upon my initial reading, I was very supportive of his argument. His example about the media’s failing to question the justification for war against Iraq seemed very apt, and there are ideas that are I feel are unjustly excluded from the discussion. Despite the positive possibilities raised by Rosen (for additional and alternative conversations to exist), he failed to consider the possibility that the sphere of legitimate debate would be eroded for dubious purposes.

The primary parties promoting the idea that climate change is a hoax are those that have been created by and are well suited to operate in new media (Breitbart.com, the blog wattsupwiththat.com, other conservative online media sources). Throughout this semester examining climate hoax on social media it has been clear that the radical version of it is being instigated by the alt-right media organizations that have received a lot of attention lately.

CLIMATE CHANGE: THE GREATEST-EVER CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE TAXPAYER – breitbat.com

The Paradoxical Origin of Climate Change Alarmism – americanthinker.com

The Politicization of Climate Science is NOT a Recent Phenomenon – wattsupwiththat.com

Relatively little of the conversation is influenced by major conservative media organizations like Fox News, which might otherwise be expected to be fueling the climate hoaxers. It is likely that a hard-line stance that many climate hoaxers take,  i.e. that the earth’s climate is not warming due to human activities and is a global scam, is not in the sphere of acceptable discourse that old media operates under. Traditional media sources tend to stress the ineffectiveness and economic damage that any measures that try to curb climate change would have. When looking at climate hoax bloggers and other sympathetic new media sources, it’s clear that they have no such reservations.

As the theory of anthropogenic climate change rests on several facts, the climate denialists attack it at multiple levels, any of which could create doubt. The main arguments that directly attack the theory are:

  • Humans are too insignificant to be affecting the Earth’s climate.
  • The alarmist global warming predictions have failed to come true.
  • Added CO2 in the atmosphere is primarily beneficial.
  • The Earth’s climate has changed in the past without humans so there is no reason to think that it is not a natural cycle.
  • A snowstorm or other cold weather event just happened so the earth isn’t warming.

Although these direct attacks are fairly widespread, the indirect attacks are more closely related to conservatives primary motivation for resisting the theory.This core tactic is to tie climate change activism to preconceived conservative suspicions toward liberal politicians and their sinister agenda. From the climate hoax view, American is suffering under the cronyism between liberals and green energy, and also its submission to international treaties and organizations concerned with reducing climate change.  They see these institutions as a covert scam to extract money from the United States, attack domestic industry and to reduce U.S. sovereignty. Some even go so far as to say that the climate change hoax is a front to establish a world government. This illusionary fear of oppression is the essential element of the movement and has changed little throughout the semester.

It is extremely difficult to determine if these climate conspiracy theorists are having much of an effect on the conversation. For the most part, the focused climate skeptics seem to be a fringe group. Most of the dedicated climate hoax groups have quite a low membership and their posts do not garner many likes or shares. Also, groups like Reddit’s climate skeptics are dominated by a few individual users who post the majority of content and make the most comments.

On the other hand, certain pro-climate hoax new media organizations reach a huge audience.  For instance, Breitbart alone commands a massive readership and is able to widely spread the climate hoax message through social media.

Articles like these are likely seen by the millions of conservatives that are signed up to these Facebook pages. Although many of them probably are not be passionate climate skeptics, the climate hoax ideas are certainly permeating through the larger conservative world.

For me, this was one of the most surprising things about the climate hoax movement was the level of vitriol they have for liberal climate change activists. People spanning the spectrum of climate skepticism, from global conspiracy theorists to those who believe that climate change is true but not a great risk, show an incredible amount of contempt for those on the opposite side of the issue.

As someone interested in the natural world and specifically insect diversity (I’d like to be an entomologist when I grow up), I find the contribution of new media to be highly disturbing. Climate change threatens not only to the continuing of existence of many animal and plant species but also well-being of many of world’s most vulnerable people. Through our own activities we are impoverishing a world in a way that cannot be reversed. Through looking at the climate hoax movement on social media and in our class readings, I find it a strong possibility that new media environment is benefiting movements like this. In the past, it was more difficult for conspiratorial ideas to reach a wide audience. New media now appears to be facilitating the spread of blatant misinformation and conspiracy theories. Many more examples can be cited besides #climatehoax including the birther movement, the Hillary Clinton Benghazi scandal, Obama being a secret Muslim, ect. Perhaps Khyri’s analysis of climate change activism on social media will provide some balance, but from the perspective of only looking at #climatehoax the effects of social media appear highly negative.

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