The ‘Arab Youth Green Voices’ challenge held on Monday 7th of November its third and final policy lab on the topic of climate disinformation in the MENA region. The policy lab, which was attended by 14 young Arab climate advocates, also hosted guest speakers: Mr. Ahmed El Attar, an investigative journalist from Egypt, who serves as a consultant for the International Center for Journalists and editor-in-chief of Ozone, and Ms. Bayan Hamadan, a fact-checker from Jordan and editor in Misbar, an Arab fact-checking platform.
The event was organized by The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) in cooperation with RNW Media and with sponsorship from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Jordan. The young climate advocates have participated in a total of three policy labs organized by ARDD to engage in dialogue and in-depth discussions with climate and media experts. They will also have the opportunity to attend the UN climate conference (COP 27) which is held in Sharm el-Sheikh this month. The policy lab was moderated by Fatima Beni Ahmed, one of the ‘Arab Youth Green Voices’ participants from Jordan, who is an independent fact-checker specialized in fact-checking scientific claims.
Mr. El Attar started the discussion by stressing that the MENA region is still lagging with regards to creating wide-scale public awareness on climate change, additionally, the region is also prone to spread of misleading information. According to him misleading information is disseminated deliberately to mislead the public about information regarding climate change, by either denying climate change science or downplaying it to halt any climate action commitments.
Such information is false and serves the vested interests of some corporations who are largely responsible for the climate crisis such as fossil fuel industries. “Huge corporations, and large economies are behind these campaigns, and sometimes even oil producing countries, because it is all related to large investments and profits,” according to El Attar. In addition to this phenomenon of disinformation, the climate change debate is also affected by misinformation, which is the accidental dissemination of false or inaccurate information by ordinary people.
Ms. Hamdan concurred and mentioned that lately some studies that have analyzed thousands of publications on Facebook found that there was an increase in disinformation, and that social media has played a significant role in the spread of campaigns denying climate change, which led some of the public to believe these claims and deny scientific facts.
El Attar added that another deliberately misleading tactic is spreading skepticism, and distracting and redirecting through convincing the public that they are responsible for the crisis and demanding that they reduce their carbon footprint. He insisted that journalists who cover climate change should check the information they receive and refer to scientists and experts to verify information and scientific terminology before publishing.
Hamdan commented that tackling disinformation is a challenging and complex endeavor, especially when the information has been widely disseminated and needs to be denounced and rectified. She gave the example of a famous publication that released an article that downplayed and casted doubts regarding investments in some projects to mitigate global warming. According to her, after revising and checking the article the newspaper was condemned. El Attar explained some of the tactics used to spread misleading information, such as denying climate change and seeking the support of fake experts to substantiate these claims, the propagation of conspiracy theories to explain climate change, as well as the falsification or deduction of scientific issues such as claiming that climate change has been occurring for millions of years. He added that another popular tactic we are now seeing is distracting through starting battles and conflicts between climate activists and organizations
El Attar advised that one of the solutions to combat misleading information is through motivating people to get interested in the topic by linking climate change impacts to their livelihoods, such as connecting increase in price of some commodities to climate change.
Hamdan confirmed this point, saying “at this stage we should deal with content in a more smart and progressive way through adding humanizing content and linking it to people’s lives, so that they understand that this issue touches their daily lives.”
The policy lab guest speakers concluded the session by stressing on the importance of carefully revising information and content on social media, as well as information published by traditional media. As well as trying to counter misleading information, fact-checking scientific terms, and linking articles to the daily livelihoods of people by clarifying how people’s lives will be affected by climate change and environmental degradation such as food security, agricultural land degradation, crop failure, commodity price increase.