misinformer | Infodemic in climate emergencies: how to deal with it? how to solve?
Written May 9, 2024


Infodemic, a term used by the World Health Organization during the Covid-19 pandemic, means a significant increase in the volume of information, correct or not, on a specific topic in ON and Offline environments, disrupting trust in official organizations, generating distrust and risky behaviors that worsen the situation. It is typical of emergencies and tragedies, as we are witnessing with the floods in southern Brazil. We will have to understand the mechanics of this phenomenon to combat it through an alliance of several actors: public authorities, quality journalism, fact checking, digital platforms, researchers and organized civil society. 

Environmental researcher and consultant Lori Regattieri recalled that the World Economic Forum's latest report on disinformation and climate change already predicted severe global risks from both problems. Regattieri, in a text published in the Climate Observatory, highlights the need for an integrated approach to face such challenges, especially in light of Brazil's leadership in the G20 and its preparation for COP30.

“Misinformation worsens this scenario, as it discredits science and delays essential climate action. Thus, the events in Rio Grande do Sul are a brutal reminder that the climate crisis is not a distant problem, but an imminent reality that demands urgent and informed action.”

A report from the Democracia em Xeque Institute on the ruralist bench's narrative on the topic reinforces Regattieri's analysis. According to the research, there is a persistence, in the context of demonstrations of solidarity, of a narrative that completely ignores the influence of the climate and environmental crisis as one of the determining factors of the tragedy in Rio Grande do Sul. “The few mentions of the factors environmental issues found in these posts are ironic and climate crisis denialist tones”, highlights the report.

The professor at the Federal University of Pelotas and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Raquel Recuero, who lives in the region and researches the circulation of false information, analyzed in a text published this Tuesday (7) how, in this crisis, disinformation operates on two levels. The first, she argues, seeks to discredit and blame public authorities, while the second involves information about specific locations seeking to generate chaos.

“These two types of misinformation, contextual and specific, generate different types of effects on the population. In the first case, disinformation generates distrust among the population in authorities (mainly governmental, but also scientific, for example). In the second, they hinder the arrival of relevant and urgent information, amplify problems and directly affect people's poor decision-making. While the first case focuses on confirmation bias, the famous “confirmation bias”, extremizing political positions, the second focuses on panic, fear, and the feeling of despair”, analyzes Recuero.

The role of journalism

In the midst of informational chaos, the role of journalism as mediator is valued as an actor capable of separating the wheat from the chaff. However, the business model of many vehicles – based on paywall – literally creates a wall for anyone trying to seek reliable information on the topic, which further reinforces the place of digital platforms in the consumption of content – ​​whether true or no. This fact was also the target of criticism from the researcher on her social networks:

However, some vehicles took action to ensure that their content was freely accessible to the general public. The newspaper O Globo announced the creation of a space on the website called SOS Rio Grande do Sul with content open to all readers without the need for a subscription. Another vehicle that opened its material for republication is the Lupa agency, all the checks that the organization is carrying out regarding the floods are free for republication by any media outlet in Brazil. 

In addition to a journalism vacuum, the institutional vacuum also contributes to informational chaos. In an interview with *disinformante at the beginning of the week, Raquel Recuero gave examples of how the lack of centralization of information and rapid official communication reinforce this scenario:

“In the region where I am, the city hall announced that there will be floods and that they would publish a map of places that should be evacuated. As he did not announce it at the time, other uninformative maps of locations that will not be affected began to appear, generating panic. There is a vacuum that should be filled and centralized by institutional information that is being occupied by what arrives via WhatsApp”, he reported.

The role of platforms 

Fundamental actors in combating the infodemic, given the volume of conflicting information that multiplies in sensitive situations, digital platforms are unable to contain climate disinformation and comply, for example, with the rules in the European Union. This is what the CAAD (Climate Action Against Disinformation) study says, which analyzed reports published by technology companies under the Code of Conduct on Disinformation and the Digital Services Act (DSA).

From analysis of the documents, it was found that the platforms are not addressing climate disinformation in advertisements and are not tracking or communicating users who share disinformative content. Furthermore, social networks are allowing unrestricted advertising from the fossil fuel sector and have gaps in policies against greenwashing, when companies claim to be sustainable, using marketing and advertising practices, but are not in fact sustainable.

In the case of the floods in the South, false advertisements, with requests for donations for those affected that hide financial scams, are promoted without any moderation on Meta's networks — which profits from allowing the dissemination of these crimes on Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and monetization platform Audience Network, reports Aos Fatos. 

The vehicle found three paid publications that use the g1 logo as their profile photo, even though they are not linked to the Globo news website.

According to Meta's Advertising Standards, advertisers may not “serve advertisements that promote products, services, schemes or offers that use practices identified as deceptive or fraudulent, including scams to obtain money from people or access personal information.”

A digital regulation scenario 

In a possible scenario of digital regulation, can the infodemic be contained? We cannot answer what is not yet a reality in Brazil. But PL 2630 brings the idea of ​​duty of care to digital platforms. In the legislative proposal, which remained stalled in Congress, platforms will need to act more quickly to prevent and reduce illicit practices that constitute crimes in some specific situations: against the Democratic Rule of Law, acts of terrorism and preparations for terrorism, crime of instigation of suicide or self-mutilation, crimes against children and adolescents, crimes of racism, violence against women and health infractions.

The bill also creates the security protocol, an emergency situation in which, with imminent risks or negligence by companies, platforms may respond civilly for damages caused. This protocol will be valid for a determined period of time. 

INCT.DD researcher and director of Democracia em Xeque, Tatiana Dourado, highlights the need for a regulatory body independent of governments that can act diligently in exceptional situations. “In times of severe crisis, such as the one faced by the population of Rio Grande do Sul, it is very natural that the search and sharing of information is accompanied by speculation about facts and events. Unfortunately, groups, certainly far from the scene of the tragedy, disseminate messages, often false or alarmist, to meet this demand and exploit people's anxiety, fear, anguish and suffering. This scenario reinforces the importance of having an independent, technical and specialized regulatory authority for digital platforms, which therefore has an understanding of what abusive and harmful practices online are and how they can be mitigated, including in cooperation with government, platforms and other segments.” .

Read the text on the website misinformer.


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