Climate Action Stalls As Narrative Attacks Shape Perception

Five examples of how narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation shape opinions, influence voting outcomes, and shift policies on key climate change measures.

Beatrice Titus and Thomas Hynes

Narrative attacks caused by disinformation campaigns are becoming the new normal on the social web, the news, and chat apps; even the most pressing global issues like climate change are not immune. As special interest groups, politicians, and bad actors wage manipulation campaigns online, critical climate action measures are being stalled, misrepresented, and ultimately defeated at the ballot box.

The problem is so urgent that The World Economic Forum recognized misinformation and disinformation as the #1 short-term global risk in their 2024 Global Risks Report, underscoring the threat of narrative attacks. Concurrently, climate change was listed as the top long-term global risk. As narrative attacks grow in severity, they undoubtedly affect organizations’ and government figures’ ability to address environmental concerns. 

Using Constellation, Blackbird.AI’s Narrative Intelligence platform, our RAV3N research team found several harmful narratives demonstrating how targeted misinformation and disinformation campaigns can significantly impact public perception and policy outcomes related to critical climate change measures. These narrative attacks, often amplified by bot-like activity and coordinated messaging, capitalize on fears about job loss, increased costs, and government overreach to sway public opinion against environmental action. As these manipulative tactics become more prevalent, they threaten global efforts to address climate change. By misrepresenting climate policy goals and potential impacts, these campaigns can stall or even reverse progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning to renewable energy, and investing in sustainable infrastructure. Recognizing and countering these narrative attacks, the influence behind them, the networks they touch, the anomalous bot behavior that scales them, and the cohorts that connect them is crucial for ensuring the public has accurate information to make informed decisions about supporting climate action at the local, national, and international levels.

Learn More: What is a narrative attack?

Narrative 1: Proposition K: Corporate Campaigns and Online Manipulation Stifle Climate Progress in El Paso

On May 6, 2023, El Paso citizens rejected the Proposition K ballot measure. Proposition K aimed to implement climate change policies to reduce the city’s contribution to climate change, invest in an environmentally sustainable future, and advance the cause of climate justice. 

Harmful narratives emerged alleging corporations spent millions campaigning against the proposition, arguing that the bill could hurt the local economy. Similarly, Representative Tony Gonzales held a “Vote No on Prop K” event. The influence of this event and corporate campaigning held online ramifications, as social media discussion echoed similar sentiments contending that the ballot would harm the city and frequently recited the phrase “Vote No.” Discussion utilizing the tagline “Vote No” contained a bot-like score of over 30%, indicating inorganic amplification of the campaign. Furthermore, nearly 40% of posts condemning the proposition exhibited negative sentiment. These posts claimed it would destroy utility prices, hurt energy capacity, damage communities, and eliminate jobs. Some opposed implementing “big government” and stated they did not want to become like California. Whereas others speculated that climate change is a globalist scam and a money laundering and power grab operation. 

Learn More: Why Government Leaders and Policymakers Need Narrative Risk Intelligence

The image depicts conversation surrounding Proposition K colorized by a bot-like filter, whereby dark red indicates bot-like activity. The visualization demonstrates bot-like authors’ large presence to scale harmful narratives against climate change initiatives further. 

Narrative 2: AB-2133: “Job Killer” Rhetoric and Coordinated Messaging Derail California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals

The California legislature voted on numerous climate change bills on September 1, 2022. Among them is AB-2133, a bill that would have increased California’s 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals from 40% to 55%. However, this bill fell short by four votes on the assembly floor. 

Multiple organizations engaged in narrative manipulation in the lead-up to the vote, advocating for their interests and contradicting AB-2133. The California Chamber of Commerce labeled the bill a “job killer,” spurring others to pick up on the tagline and circulate it across a larger audience. The conversation further discussed the legislation’s effect on employment, suggesting it threatens thousands of high-paying jobs. A narrative containing the phrase earned a bot-like score of 50% and an anomalous score of nearly 40%, indicating the presence of a coordinated messaging campaign. In addition, a separate organization committed to ensuring reliable energy access argued that the bill would restrict energy availability. They claimed solar and wind power are not a solution and suggested there would not be enough power to “keep the lights on.” 

Meanwhile, citizens of California further discussed the legislation, spurring various other narratives. Many worried that the bill would significantly increase the median price of homes in the area, calling AB-2133 too “costly” to implement. Others alleged that it would cost the state and local government trillions of dollars in revenue. In one instance, an individual alleged that oil and gas companies were spreading propaganda that AB-2133 would kill sloths. Moreover, some individuals advocated for the bill to be paused or delayed – rather than completely denied – arguing that the state must first maintain the power grid. 

Learn More: How Compass by Blackbird.AI Uses Generative AI to Help Organizations Fight Narrative Attacks

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.

Narrative 3: Initiative 1631: Misinformation and Fear Mongering Thwart Carbon Emissions Fee in Washington

In 2018, the citizens of Washington denied the ballot measure Initiative 1631, which would have initiated a fee for carbon emissions. The initiative would impose a charge for using greenhouse gas pollutants, with the revenue directed toward pollution reduction efforts. While conversation advocating for the measure garnered more engagement and participation, critics of the measure ultimately prevailed. Claims surfaced from supporters of the measure alleging a “No On Initiative-1631 Campaign.” They asserted that the “vote no” ads are relentless and contended that someone spent a lot of money campaigning against the legislation. Further analysis of the conversation confirmed the presence of these narratives maligning the measure. 

Organizations and influential accounts drove the conversation critiquing the measure. Many citizens shared the Seattle Times’ opinion that people should “vote no” on the proposed legislation. Similarly, one entity sponsored a petroleum association and solely devoted its posts to advocating for citizens to “vote no.” They posted one month following the election, garnering hundreds of engagements. This entity claimed the measure was too expensive and handed government officials a blank check that would primarily be paid for by the working class and small businesses. Measure critics further circulated this narrative, expressing concern over future gas and utility prices. Others harbored more neutral opinions towards the legislation and suggested it was well-intentioned but flawed.

Alternatively, some entities voiced more extreme speculations. One narrative alleged the money from taxes would be put towards a public school initiative that the state was ruled to fund, insinuating that the tax was a tactic to raise the needed money. Another narrative claimed the tax is a scam, as it would do nothing for climate change. In one instance, an individual asserted that Washington had not experienced any consequences of climate change in 25 years, rendering the bill useless.

Learn More: How the Blackbird.AI Platform Addresses Narrative Attacks in the Insurance Industry

The visualization depicts narratives between supporters of Initiative 1631 in yellow, and opposition to the legislation in blue. A clear distinction between the yellow and blue clusters indicates that cross-dialogue between both narratives was limited. 

Narrative 4: Proposition 112: Oil and Gas Affiliates Leverage Influencers to Defeat Colorado Fracking Regulations

Colorado voters voted in 2018 for Proposition 112, a measure that would have altered the required distance for new wells to be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other “vulnerable areas.” The new distance would be several times greater than the current regulations, earning criticism from oil and gas affiliates.

Opposition to the measure labeled Proposition 112, a ban on oil and gas. This claim originated from the Denver Post on October 10 in the lead-up to the November vote and was promptly picked up by other opposition groups. Others began sharing the #cantheban hashtag in tandem, urging citizens to cast a “no” vote. Additionally, the opposition campaign had prominent influencers with oil and gas associations bolstering conversation. While many of these influencers were Colorado-based, some outside-state energy affiliates chimed in. They frequently argued that Proposition 112 would harm the community, hurt the economy, and destroy job opportunities, specifically in the energy sector. Some hashtags promoting these claims included #energyproud and #jobsmatter. Colorado mayors also actively advocated against the bill with a “Mayors against Prop 112” campaign. The top influencers in the conversation reported that more than 50 Colorado mayors publicly opposed the measure. 

Moreover, another narrative emerged condemning the measure for its effect on schools. The conversation alleged that Proposition 112 would significantly reduce school funding, leaving schools barely operable as the tax money derived from oil and gas is far too valuable. Discussion of the measures’ effect on schools earned a bot-like score of 40% and an anomalous score of nearly 30%, indicating the presence of a coordinated messaging campaign. 

Learn More: How the Blackbird.AI Platform Addresses Narrative Attacks on National Security and Government Leaders

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.

Narrative 5: Proposition 127: Targeted Messaging and Inorganic Amplification Distort Arizona’s Renewable Energy Debate

In November 2018, citizens of Arizona struck down Proposition 127. The measure would have required electric utilities to use renewable energy for 50 percent of their power generation by 2035, comparable to the 6 percent they used. This measure attracted extraordinary amplification and coordinated messaging. The narrative urging against the measure earned a bot-like score of 51.5% and an anomalous score of 71.5%, irregularly high for Blackbird.AI standards.

Detractors of the proposition zeroed in on the increased cost the measure would impose on Arizonans. Leading the charge with nearly 70% of all engagements, one influential opposer enacted a strategy to target specific groups or programs to highlight the damages they forecasted from the proposition. They highlighted that the new measure would reduce funding for law enforcement, other first responders, and classrooms while also citing vulnerabilities for fixed-income individuals such as seniors and veterans. They discussed the support they received from various professions, such as realtors, teachers, and engineers. Meanwhile, other opposition groups focused on the increased energy costs the proposition would impose.

However, the conversation surrounding this proposition grew contentious. Supporters of the measure alleged that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich “rigged” the proposition’s language to be misleading. These allegations were accompanied by calls to vote against Brnovich’s re-election on the same November ballot. Similarly, opposition to the measure suggested the proposition was pushed by people outside of the state as a political ploy to turn Arizona into California.

WATCH: The New War: Narrative Attacks Created by Misinformation and Disinformation

The visualizations above depict user interactions, hashtags, and URLs advocating for “vote no” on Proposition 127. The first image is colorized by an anomalous color filter, whereby dark red indicates high anomalous attributes, and the second image is colorized by the bot-like filter. Dark red nodes permeate the entire conversation, demonstrating the widespread manipulation and inorganic conversation present. 

Key Takeaways

Climate change is an increasing global threat, and with it, narrative attacks. While those who work to fight the effects of climate change face their threats, political efforts attempting to address environmental concerns face an entirely different set from targeted online messaging campaigns. Climate change and the threat of narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation will continue to intersect and alter public perception and understanding of the goals and targets of environmental action plans. Understanding conversation patterns between interest groups and working to limit the spread of misinformation is paramount in ensuring continuous, effective climate action.  

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About Blackbird.AI

BLACKBIRD.AI protects organizations from narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation that cause financial and reputational harm. Our AI-driven Narrative Intelligence Platform – identifies key narratives that impact your organization/industry, the influence behind them, the networks they touch, the anomalous behavior that scales them, and the cohorts and communities that connect them. This information enables organizations to proactively understand narrative threats as they scale and become harmful for better strategic decision-making. A diverse team of AI experts, threat intelligence analysts, and national security professionals founded Blackbird.AI to defend information integrity and fight a new class of narrative threats. Learn more at Blackbird.AI.

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