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Leon Kaye headshot

‘Pre-Bunking’ Climate Misinformation During COP26

By Leon Kaye

Image: Glasgow, host of the COP26 climate talks, at night.

Yes, COP26 is a massive media event, as many global leaders of note, whether they are in government, the private sector or with an NGO, are present and their speeches will make news. But as consequential as this year’s climate talks could become, events unfurling in Glasgow also offer countless opportunities to foment climate misinformation, especially across social media channels.

Twitter, however, says it is determined to nip any such misinformation in the bud.

The tactic? Twitter, which can boast that it has more than 200 million users depending on the source cited, says it plans to roll out a constant stream of content that will “pre-bunk” any lies that will flow across its platform.

According to Sarah Fischer of Axios, the “pre-bunking” includes the streaming of content related to COP26 across Twitter, whether users are on a smartphone app or on a web browser. Depending on where a user lands, content could appear on a trends page, in the “#Explore” section, or when someone uses the social media platform’s search function.

“We’re rolling out pre-bunks — hubs of credible, authoritative information, available in the Explore tab, Search, and Trends. These pre-bunks will surface reliable, factual context across a range of key themes, like the science backing climate change and global warming realities,” the company said yesterday in its corporate blog.

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Any pre-bunked content viewable in your Twitter feed could change rapidly. As of press time, at least on TriplePundit’s Twitter feed, clicking through a few browser pages to land on a COP26 landing page featured a live video feed of the stage and ongoing talks in Glasgow (which apparently ended around 6:00pm last night, but then were replayed); links to replays of broadcast from NowThis News and the PBS NewsHour; a Twitter feed that at a minimum weighed in on the day’s proceedings sans any obvious bots or Twitter handles lacking profile pictures; and a summary of the event itself. A search for #COP26 found similar information, only in a slightly different format.

According to Twitter, the pre-bunks will continue during COP26, and they will include updates from environmental organizations, more live broadcasts and content available in five languages: Arabic, English, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish.

Of course, one could say that our publication’s Twitter feed was misinformation-free, as the algorithms have long figured out that our focus is on sustainability and business, not politics. Plus, we have long decided that any “engagement” with the haters or the faceless bots with 10 followers is not worth the fuss. Depending on the political views of other Twitter users, it remains to be seen if the company’s efforts will actually pay off. From our vantage point, the cobbling together of these pre-bunks was impressive.

How this pans out remains to be seen. Fischer pointed out that Twitter has made it clear that it will not be taking action on individual posts that are promoting any sort of climate misinformation – a far different approach than how the company says it is tackling the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

That may not mollify critics of social media companies, who still have plenty to say in the wake of last month’s hearings in the U.S. Congress. One way to think of this temporary policy, however, is that Twitter deserves some credit for ensuring that information on its platform surrounding COP26 is, ahem, fair and not unbalanced. Yet at the same time, it also shows that all social media platforms will continue to endure criticism that they are not deploying enough resources, i.e. money to take on disinformation that is easily found across their platforms.

If you have looked at your Twitter app or your desktop this morning and like what the company is presenting during COP26, do not allow your hopes to soar too far upward. Twitter told Fischer that the pre-bunks will stop after the Glasgow event ends, but says it is open to find a way so that it “can resurface context as needed” in the wake of the event or other information related to climate change.

Image credit: Craig McKay via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye