Report: Disinformation Escalating During Extreme Weather Events in Latin America
WASHINGTON – Today, new research from Roots and Friends of the Earth, commissioned with Purpose, has revealed the proliferation of climate disinformation narratives surrounding extreme weather events in Latin America. The report highlights how these events, due to their high visibility, multifaceted nature, and emotional impact, serve as fertile ground for the dissemination of climate change disinformation that impacts domestic politics.
The study focused on three distinct extreme weather events spanning different hazards and countries in Brazil, Peru and Chile. Despite their differences, a common thread emerged: the presence and amplification of misleading narratives that diverted attention from climate-related causes toward false claims of criminal intent, thus misattributing the root causes of the damage and stalling climate action.
This analysis backs up a series of reports that demonstrate the pervasiveness of climate disinformation in Spanish-speaking communities, and demonstrates a growing trend in extreme weather events being exploited to spread disinformation and advance anti-renewable narratives. Furthermore, resources devoted to the moderation of Spanish disinformation are inadequate, especially when compared to those available for English language moderation. Platforms have taken little action to address this disparity, and newly exposed internal staffing numbers show Spanish content moderation on Twitter gets 1/10th the manpower of English content moderation.
“This research underscores a troubling cycle in which disinformers exploit extreme weather events as opportunities for the proliferation of false information,” said Max MacBride, Counter-Disinformation Lead at Roots, “This, in turn, fuels misconceptions about the causes of these events, deflects attention away from the scientifically established links between climate change and extreme weather, and hinders climate action. Governments and social media companies like Meta and X must take much stronger action to stop the spread of misinformation online.”
“This latest report falls squarely in line with what previous reports have told us: disinformers are capitalizing on extreme weather events to confuse, dupe and con the most vulnerable in our comunidades,” said Edder Díaz Martínez, Communications Manager at GreenLatinos, “It’s time for governments to address this issue and for tech companies to start taking accountability for their shameful neglect of this ongoing problem. Lives are on the line, and we must act now.”
Summary findings are:
- False narratives around the cause of extreme weather events were found in Brazil, Chile and Peru. Disasters were incorrectly attributed to dam breakages, arson and climate research centers studying the atmosphere, reducing focus on inadequate levels of climate action and extreme weather preparedness.
- Extreme weather disasters are especially susceptible to misinformation because they’re highly visible, multi-causal and very emotionally-driven.
- Misattributing the cause of these disasters sows confusion in online communities and stalls necessary climate action.
“We won’t be able to protect people in Latin America from climate change if professional disinformers keep manipulating weather disasters by gaming social media algorithms,” said Michael Khoo, Climate Disinformation Program Director at Friends of the Earth, “Climate change is an emergency that requires everyone to have access to the truth so we can take strong action. Big Tech platforms like Twitter, Meta and TikTok need to end their complacency in the problem and address climate disinformation in all languages.”
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