ScienceAlert, the Australian based website that promotes general science news, has announced a comment policy in response to an unprecedented degree of trolling on their Facebook page. Climate Trolls appear to be swarming whenever a climate related science posting is published.
Let’s dive in and see what is happening.
What exactly is a comment troll?
A comment section on any site can often be a lucky dip. You will sometimes strike gold and find an insightful comment but often it is glib stuff and can even be rancid bile. People are people, and so a comments section that anybody can post into will reflect that reality. We will find the confused, the befuddled, the amused, and also angry folks venting their frustration. All of that is generally fine.
There is also a line that some cross.
Over on the dark side are those that view comments as an opportunity to be leveraged.
- Spam : comments that don’t relate to the article they are posted under but instead simply promote something else. I have a spam blocker that has filtered out literally hundreds of thousands of these. Interestingly enough a vast swathe are from China and promote cheap copies of designer brands. I have no idea if that is simply me or if it is a common trend.
- Trolls: comments that are designed to provoke a reaction and to inflame people. The goal is attention seeking via the promotion of misinformation.
The crux of it all is that whoever moderates will walk a tightrope that strives to nurture real conversation and yet also tone done the shouting matches that descent into outright abuse, while also dealing with blatant trolling.
What is my comment policy here?
Generally I tend not to filter anything except spam. I’m a tiny blog and so my 3 readers (tip’s hat to all of you) along with the army of Russian porn bots that follow me, generally don’t Troll. They might indeed disagree, but that’s not trolling.
What Has Happened To ScienceAlert?
This is Chris Cassella’s Science News aggregation and curation site. It is a worldwide brand and works well.
- A factual search reveals they have not failed a fact check.
- MediaBias ranks them as a Pro-Science site that respects the consensus of experts in the given scientific field and strives to publish peer reviewed science
They published a posting on 27th Sept titled “Do Not Feed The Climate Trolls“. There they explain …
Over the past two weeks, something unprecedented has happened on ScienceAlert’s Facebook page. And we need to talk about it.
As members of the Covering Climate Now initiative, we recently strengthened our coverage of climate change. We also proudly supported the Global Climate Strike on 20 September 2019, a day that saw over four million people staging protests around the world, demanding climate action as signs of environmental breakdown rapidly encompass our little blue marble.
It’s not strange that a science news publication would talk about climate change and its impact on the world. But the responses that started flooding our Facebook page seemed strange indeed, until we realised what’s really going on.
Our readers have expressed surprise at just how many climate change deniers appear to be following us. Lately, every time we post a climate news article on Facebook, with astonishing speed and ferocity the comment section becomes a hot-pot of climate denialism.
Posts will receive hundreds of comments in a short amount of time, often in wild disproportion to the actual reach of the post, or the readership of the article itself. Those metrics are a clear sign the engagement is not organic, but is coming from a targeted source.
OK, so what are they going to do about it all?
How you engage in our comment section on Facebook is crucial. When you see one of our posts about climate news, there will inevitably be climate troll comments underneath it. They will post inflammatory, false statements. Offensive memes. They are trying to upset you.
Do not let them. When you see a climate troll comment, please respond by simply tagging ScienceAlert, so our moderators can deal with it as soon as they’re able.
We can’t stress that enough: do not engage. Every time you reply to an inflammatory comment, Facebook’s algorithm pushes it to the top, where more people inevitably jump into the fray. Next thing we know, several threads are spiralling into a shouting match, all while drowning out the important climate news we are trying to share with the world.
But why the concern?
They have come to ScienceAlert’s page with one goal only: to sow dissent, pollute the conversation, and make it appear that the science of climate change is to be doubted, that it’s all some massive conspiracy of “money-grubbing scientists” (we had a good laugh at that one).
If you deeply care about climate change, you may have a strong urge to counter the trolls. They know this. They are actively using that urge to make their comments more prominent than they deserve to be.
Resist that urge with everything you have. Tag us, and move on. We won’t hesitate to ban these people from our comment section.
Is this censorship?
I Checked out one denialism site (No I’m not linking to them). They appear to be taking the stance that this is censorship.
Nope, not at all. The actual conversation regarding climate change takes place within the peer-reviewed science journals. If they had a valid evidence-based rebuttal then they should engage in that context and win that argument. They can’t because they do not have arguments that withstand analysis by subject matter experts. Instead, all they have are fossil fuel funded talking points.
It is all perhaps best summed up like this (via xkcd) …
- The Conversation (17th Sept 2019 adopted a similar stance) – Climate change deniers are dangerous – they don’t deserve a place on our site …
“We believe conversations are integral to sharing knowledge, but those who are fixated on dodgy ideas in the face of decades of peer-reviewed science are nothing but dangerous.
It is counter productive to present the evidence and then immediately undermine it by giving space to trolls. The hopeless debates between those with evidence and those who fabricate simply stalls action.”
- Science Alert (27th Sept 2019) – Do Not Feed The Climate Trolls
The above article being posted on the Facebook ScienceAlert page …