Digg.com is probably the largest social news sharing site on the web. As such it is an attractive target for the climate change Deniers to try and use it to reach a huge audience with their frauds. Their most recent success was the ‘Latif global cooling trend‘ hoax.
For the most part the Denier spam dies a quiet and well deserved death as the more scientifically literate Digg users are able to vote down the idiocy.
However, now and then one of the Denier frauds is picked up by an Earthsucker and makes it to the “front page.” At that point it gets seen by thousands of Digg users, many of whom seem only too eager to believe the most idiotic Denier claims despite the obvious flaws in the stories.
What is puzzling and disturbing about the comments that get made on the stories is the apparent inability of many users to distinguish the vacuous histrionics of the Deniers from rational, fact based points.
- Mojob Latif & Cooling
- Gullible much?
- New media & old ideologies
Digg.com is big. With over 40 million users it’s potential reach is huge. Even when you account for a majority being inactive, and a significant number being only rarely active, you are still left with a huge audience (and here). Alexa ranks it’s traffic at 43rd highest in the US, and 105th highest in the world.
Alexa reports that demographically digg is dominated by Americans, but with significant global traffic, particularly from Asia. Relative to the internet average, the digg user is a young male with slightly more education than average (and here). It is not without cause that some refer to Digg as having a frat boy culture.
While Digg may not have the usership of Facebook or Twitter, the format means that a story that makes it to the front page breaks out of a limited social network and accesses a huge and diverse audience, regardless of it’s accuracy. As noted at Wikipedia “Another criticism in this area has been how a faulty or misleading article can reach many users quickly, blowing out of proportion the unsupported claims or accusations …“
This is hardly Digg’s fault, but it is a format that invites abuse. For this reason the Deniers have made a particular effort to coordinate their efforts to promote Denier stories and kill real science. That is not to suggest any sort of global conspiracy, just effective organizing. The Digg users in question deny it, but i) many have noticed it, ii) it’s easy enough to use the various social media tracking tools to monitor it in action.
Starsuckers is a new documentary about the tabloid media, specifically the flagrant disregard for facts in reporting.
“ … the film journeys through the dark underbelly of the modern media. … reveals the toxic effect the media is having on us all – and especially our children. It shows how truth has become a distant memory in the modern news … just how bad things can get when we let entertainment reach out into politics and charity.“
While Starsuckers focuses on tabloid media and their coverage of celebrities, the fact is that many more mainstream media outlets adopt the Starsucker disregard for facts and ethics when they believe a particular story will sell well or it suits an unstated political ideology of that particular institution.
For mainstream media that use the Starsucker approach with respect to climate change stories I am coining the term ‘Earthsuckers‘ as the fit is just too good. That is to say, for the purpose of making money outrageous fabrications are fed to a gullible public eager to lap it up.
Granted some popular media seem to do it for ideological reasons without necessarily a strong profit motive; Fox News, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The National Post, The Spectator, The Australian, and The Telegraph come immediately to mind, although there are certainly more. Insomuch as they are just as desperate to publish drivel as the profit driven ones, and employ the same methods, I include them as ‘Earthsuckers.’
Indeed the Starsuckers’ description of “How to sell a fake news story” could well be Denier media strategy guide, while thier “How Tabloids Print Lies” is a fair description of how the Earthsuckers handle a climate story.
As noted, most Denier frauds die in obscurity at Digg, but when an Earthsucker picks up a story the alleged credibility of the recognizable media name seems to be enough to carry it over the top on to the front page. Spiegel Online choose to Earthsuck the Mojib Latif global cooling fable as “Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out.” Within hours it hit the front page at Digg.
Update: 16:30 Salon has echoed the story.
Of course there isn’t an exciting story in “Consensus continues, scientists more certain then ever, details being worked out.” The Earthsucker specialty is presenting something so out of context and distorted as to say the exact opposite of the truth. This is exactly what was done to Mojib Latif.
Peter Sinclair covers the basics of the story in his ever excellent “Climate Crock of the Week” series. Here is “Birth of a Climate Crock“:
added to Climate Denial Crock of the Week archive.
Anatomy of a lie: How Marc Morano and Lorne Gunter spun Mojib Latif’s remarks out of control looks at how an initial garbled version of what Latif was saying about a hypothetical scenario got spun by the Denialosphere, and from there the Churnalists just ran with it.
A bit harsh, no? Hardly.
1) The sources the Earthsuckers used are notorious disinformation sites pushing anti-science nonsense. Running with them is the equivalent to running an Intelligent Design story as science and pretending that real scientists were divided about evolution by natural selection.
2) They could have tried asking Latif himself … Interview the principle person involved in the story? WOW! what a concept … what Churnalist could possibly think of doing that?
Apparently the idea is so mind bogglingly difficult it takes a climate scientist to think of it: Interview with Dr. Mojib Latif, who points out that it is in fact an old story Nature article on ‘cooling’ confuses media, deniers: Next decade may see rapid warming
3) Climate scientists and reliable climate science writiers were putting the facts online (the links given above, and):
- NYT’s Andy Revkin backtracks (but not nearly enough)
- “Of Moles and Whacking: “Mojib Latif predicted two decades of cooling”“
- “Of moles and whacking: “Climate models didn’t predict this lack of warming”
- Deniers seize on climate cooling model
- Listen to me (being vaguely alluded to) on the radio
- Climate Denial Crock of the Week/Birth of a Crock
4) Assuming search engines baffle the Churnalist, they could have contacted a climate scientist to explain the science for them … or an 8 year old to explain the internet.
Of course the way an Earthsucker attempts to preserve it’s reputation as legitimate media is by presenting a somewhat more accurate version in the body of the story … well down in the article. In fact the formula looks something like this:
- Headline: Sensationalist, outrageously misleading;
- First third: Distortions, misrepresentations and fictions that fit the headline, although not quite as over the top;
- Remaining two thirds: Sufficient details and context to allow plausible deniability that the abuses in the first third are actually sort of based in fact, but without going so far as to expose them for the nonsense that they are;
- Conclusion: Pretend to reconcile the two versions presented by suggesting that it is an unresolved question and that only time will tell.
Which is exactly what Spiegel does.
Of course the real mystery is that age old question we used to ask in supermarket check out lines as we saw the headline “Elvi’s two-headed alien love child cures Oprah’s cancer with Shroud of Turin“, What idiot believes this crap?
The sad fact is that people’s pre-existing condition of profound climate ignorance makes them highly vulnerable to even more of it. Spiegel was only too willing to deliver more climate ignorance. “The global temperature-monitoring network consists of 517 weather stations.” What? There’s more than that in Germany alone, with 10s of thousands covering the planet.
How does anyone who knows that you can get different weather reports (with temperature) for virtually every city, town and village on the planet imagine that this information comes from a mere 517 weather stations? How did that make sense to anyone?
I have no idea exactly what fact is being distorted/garbled here (assuming there was one). There are 7,280 fixed temperature stations alone, never mind all of the other temperature monitoring systems, so where did 517 come from? Regardless, the number should have caused any thinking adult to pause and question the story.
How about the premise that overnight, based on a single study, millions of scientists switched from a global consensus on warming to cooling? Spiegel covers the fact that some (ie all) scientists might not accept this new information (ie fiction) with “But a few scientists simply refuse to believe the British calculations.”
So the flawed story goes to the Digg front page and is now exposed to a much broader audience than just Spiegel readers and the Denialosphere.
Now Digg users regularly get hoaxed by the Earthsuckers (eg BBC’s “What happened to global warming?“), but what made the Spiegel story unusual is that this particular version of the “cooling” story was not a new one. As such there is already abundant debunking of the story easily accessible. A couple of observations about the ensuing, all too typical comment forum flame wars.
The ultimate irony is that we have an audience that self-identifies as far too worldly and sophisticated to mindlessly accept the global scientific consensus, even as they mindlessly swallow this single, obviously flawed media story.
Further, it obviously never occurred to the majority of these ‘critically thinking skeptics’ to actually fact check. Had they done something as hellishly complex and intellectually taxing as an internet search, they would have gotten (1st 10 links):
- 4 posts debunking the story
- 2 repeating it
- the original NewScientist story
- 3 not specifically relevant
Second, if you look through the Rationalist/Denier comments, it is quite clear that the Deniers overwhelmingly offer the usual collection of “Hoax/Al Gore/UN Conspiracy/Tax grab” slogans, whereas a significant number of the rationalists provide facts, links to relevant science, or at least a cogent comment.
Needless to say there is also the standard “haha computer models don’t work” comments, ignoring that fact that their evidence is a story about a prediction made with a computer model (logic/literacy much?).
One hopes that the adults who see this notice the difference and that it influences them, but as no one comments on it I have to wonder. Probably the majority do not even bother with the comments. The unfortunate implication would be that they take the story itself more or less at face value. On the plus side, most of these stories die with a tenth of the votes that a truly popular story gets.
New media & old ideologies
The promise of the internet was that it would provide the public with access to a wealth of information. In theory this liberated populations from the lies of authoritarian governments and the distortions of media conglomerates.
In practice the internet fails to solve the age old problem of what you do when the public actually wants to be lied to. Rather than being consistently cynical &/or skeptical to all authorities, they use this self image to justify rejecting facts that they disagree with while mindlessly accepting lies consistent with their ideology.
The problem is not new, and certainly neither the internet broadly nor Digg in particular can be held responsible. Indeed, in theory Digg could be playing the vital role of getting important information to large numbers of people very rapidly. But not without their cooperation, and they are not cooperating.
The dominance of Digg by Americans is troubling in that it mirrors the dominance of global media by American perspectives. Thanks to the propaganda campaigns orchestrated by industry shills and phony think tanks the US has become a bastion of climate ignorance. Not that Denierism is unique to the US, far from it, but it is unusually widespread and zealous.
Here again, in theory the larger populations of world should be able to swamp Digg with information that overwhelms the parochial US Denialism. This even despite the obstacles of computer access and language. In practice it is the US based ideologies and disinformation that are getting fed to the rest of the world.
I doubt there is an easy answer. The solution is probably what it has always been, that those who care have to organize and work harder to counter the lies with facts.
“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”
probably Charles Haddon Spurgeon, usually misattributed to Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain.
“Since 1982, spring in East Asia (defined here as the eastern third of China and the Korean Peninsula) has been warming at a rate of one degree Fahrenheit per decade.” Earth Gauge
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
Comments that are not relevant to the post that they appear under or the evolving discussion will simply be deleted, as will links to Denier spam known to be scientific gibberish