If the U.N. and U.S. government are so committed to censoring disinformation, why are they themselves spreading it?
The United States government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), within the Department of Homeland Security, is raising the alarm about the threat of “foreign influence” that is “leveraging misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.” CISA defines “malinformation” as information “based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.” In 2021, CISA, along with the White House and private sector partners, successfully persuaded Facebook and Twitter to censor accurate information about the origins of the SARS-2 coronavirus and covid vaccines.
And yet CISA is failing to do its job when censoring malinformation, misinformation, and disinformation about climate change, including by “threat actors,” often funded or employed by foreign governments. A Google survey of over 2,300 people conducted last year by the nonpartisan research organization Environmental Progress, which I founded and lead, found that 53% of people surveyed in the U.S. agree with the false statement, “Climate change is making hurricanes more frequent,” while 46% agree with the false statement, “Climate change threatens human extinction.”
I strongly oppose efforts by the U.S. government to censor American citizens by ordering social media platforms to remove content, sometimes while threatening to end Section 230, the federal law that makes companies like Facebook and Twitter possible. Such censorship is a violation of the First Amendment. The journalist Matt Taibbi, former State Department official Mike Benz, and I have all pointed to the emergence since 2016 of a censorship-industrial complex operated and funded by the U.S. government. It should be defunded.
But it’s notable that the censorship-industrial complex has shown no interest in censoring climate misinformation that has led people to believe that climate change is making hurricanes more frequent and threatening human extinction. “An example of malinformation is editing a video to remove important context to harm or mislead,” writes CISA. And yet that is precisely what foreign disinformation threat actors like Greta Thunberg, her allies at the German government-funded Potsdam Institute, and even the U.N.’s own Secretary-General Antonio Guterres routinely do when they share videos of people in poor countries suffering from flooding, which is a direct result of lack of flood management infrastructure, not slightly more precipitation from climate change.
Moreover, the censorship-industrial complex has sought to censor accurate information about climate change and energy. Last June, former Biden Administration Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy demanded censorship of those who criticized the failure of weather-dependent renewables during the blackouts in Texas in February 2021, even though such criticisms were factual. “The tech companies have to stop allowing specific individuals over and over again to spread disinformation,” said McCarthy.
In her interview, she went on to falsely claim that critics of renewables are funded by “dark money” fossil fuel companies — the same false claim that Democrats made of the world’s most influential scientist studying hurricanes and climate change, Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado. As such, McCarthy spread disinformation in order to undermine the legitimacy of her opponents.
The U.N. continues to wage its disinformation campaign against the people of the world, as today’s headlines about its new report show. “‘The climate time-bomb is ticking,’” reads the CNN headline. “Scientists release ‘survival guide’ to avert climate disaster,” says BBC. “Earth to hit critical warming threshold by early 2030s, climate panel says.” The U.N. most journalists are implying that scientists have determined that a temperature increase beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic.
The U.N. report is malinformation. The supposed 1.5-degree “threshold” is political, not scientific, as Pielke and others have shown. Global warming causes incrementally greater risk. Temperatures are expected to rise less than most thought as recently as 10 years ago, thanks to abundant natural gas. And humankind’s physical security is assured, given our success at adapting to more extreme weather and producing more food on less land.
All of this raises a question. Why, if the U.N. and U.S. governments are so committed to censoring disinformation, are they themselves spreading it? Why, in other words, do U.N. officials perfectly fit their own definition of “disinformation threat actors,” and often foreign ones at that?
Why The UN Spreads Disinformation
Julian Huxley, first president of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
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