There will always be people who ignore climate science, no matter how concrete it may be. Nevertheless, Arnold Worldwide and Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project are hoping to give the public tools to fight climate change deniers in the environment where they thrive: the Internet. Reality Drop, a social media tool launched by Al Gore this week at TED, aims to give visitors talking points that they can share in the comments section of popular online climate change stories.
One of the top stories on Reality Drop right now is a piece in BusinessWeek discussing how a tax on carbon emissions in the U.S. would be greater than any resulting revenue gain. Reality Drop visitors are encouraged to "drop reality" by rallying their social networks around the story, deciding whether it’s fact or fiction, and using pre-packaged talking points to win the argument in the comments section.
The talking point for the BusinessWeek piece: "The worst thing we can do for our economy is sit back and do nothing about climate change," supplied along with a link to Reality Drop’s page about cutting carbon emissions (the site catalogs over 100 climate myths and rebuttals, provided in partnership with Skeptical Science). The whole Reality Drop site is gamified, so every action taken gives users points that can be used to get badges, unlock levels, and gain in rank.
As you can see in the comments sectionof the Businessweek article, Reality Drop users are eagerly copying and pasting the supplied talking point. The result: It looks like a bunch of spammers took over the comments. Out of 9 comments (at the time of writing), five say, "The worst thing we can do for our economy is sit back and do nothing about climate change."
Is gathering people en masse to parrot talking points really effective? If a bunch of climate deniers did the same thing, it’s doubtful that Reality Drop proponents would let it sway them. And if those climate deniers pasted in the same quote over and over, on-the-fence readers probably wouldn’t pay attention either. It would make a difference if Reality Drop users spent a couple minutes writing original comments, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. The site is still young, of course, so things could change.
The climate change discussion is incredibly important, and incorrect statements abound. Reality Drop’s database of myths and popular news stories provides the tools that people need to respond intelligently. These tools just need to be used wisely.