The United Nations has presented a policy proposal to tackle what it calls a global disinformation problem spreading largely through online platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
The “Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms” lays out regulatory steps that member nations can take to stop online platforms from allowing disinformation to spread. This disinformation includes positions on climate change the U.N. doesn’t agree with.
A Twitter post from U.N. Secretary Guterres on the proposal received a flood of comments critical of the proposal and calling it censorship.
The proposal provides only definitions of what it considers to be disinformation, but it includes “hate speech,” which the U.N. defines as any communication that attacks or uses pejorative language referring to a person or group based on their religion, ethnicity, gender or “other identity factor.”
There are no examples of what the U.N. believes falls within the category and what does not.
Another category of disinformation the proposal mentions is information that “undercuts the scientifically agreed basis for the existence of human-induced climate change,” which includes arguments that would “derail urgent action to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.”
The agreement is a legally binding international treaty in which nations who signed on agree to reduce emissions to limit global warming to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial levels. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement, but President Joe Biden reversed that order upon taking office.
As evidence of this alleged disinformation spreading online, the U.N. proposal points to the increase in the use of the hashtag #ClimateScam. In the first half of 2022, there were fewer than 2,700 uses of the hashtag per month, but that shot up to 199,000 per month in January, a period that also corresponds to Tesla CEO Elon Musk taking over the platform and reforming its moderation policies.
Besides posts claiming that humans aren’t impacting the climate, the hashtag is used in a wide variety of comments, including those critical of net-zero policies, documenting past predictions of climate catastrophe that turned out to be false and responses to articles that make false claims about extreme weather.
The U.N. proposal also claims that some oil companies are exaggerating their efforts to protect the environment, a form of disinformation it calls “greenwashing.”
Some activists in Wyoming are concerned about the impacts of wind energy on eagle populations, which they say are being downplayed, but the U.N. proposal makes no mention of other industries misrepresenting their environmental impact.
Orwell Warned Us
Tyler Lindholm, state director for Americans for Prosperity in Wyoming and a former state lawmaker, told Cowboy State Daily there’s a real danger when government bodies decide they’re going to start policing misinformation.
As examples, he points to Facebook’s decision to censor information discussing the lab-leak theory of the origin of the COVID-19 virus. Articles or discussions suggesting that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, where experiments in virus modification were being done were said to be “hate speech” that would generate violence against Asians.
For nearly a year, all such content was blocked on the platform.
Public, a substack publication, recently reported that sources within the U.S. government told the news outlet that three of the earliest people to become infected with the virus were members of the Wuhan lab.
“I hate to keep pointing it out, but George Orwell warned us about all this,” Lindholm said.
David Blackmon, a longtime energy analyst and writer, told Cowboy State Daily the same thing happened with the story linking then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to his son Hunter Biden and brother James Biden’s foreign business dealings.
Twitter, prior to Musk’s takeover, barred a New York Post article that revealed the scandal from being distributed.
After Musk took over, he released documentation showing coordination between Twitter employees and the federal government to suppress the story, which turned out to be true.
Near the end of the 2020 presidential campaign, 51 former top intelligence officials signed a letter called the story a “Russian information operation.”
“Well, now we know there was no Russian disinformation going on at all. Those experts were all wrong, and most likely knew they were wrong when they signed the letter. And it was all a propaganda effort,” Blackmon said.
While the proposal discusses the importance of defending the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and even mentions the potential for anti-disinformation campaigns to be used to suppress free speech, it makes no mention of how to stop that from happening.
Blackmon said the proposal is strongly authoritarian in tone, and it’s not surprising, he said, considering U.N. Secretary Antonio Guterres’ background. He was chairman of a group called Socialist International.
“He’s a socialist. He’s an authoritarian. So it’s no surprise he’s got a narrative to maintain,” Blackmon said.
The European Union has implemented various restrictions on content that can be distributed on social media platforms, which the U.N. proposal cites as means by which disinformation can be fought.
Lindholm said such policies have been harder to enact in the U.S. because of the strength of First Amendment protections on free speech.
“The First Amendment wasn't really written for speech that everybody agrees with. The First Amendment was written for things that might be considered controversial or even hard to hear,” Lindholm said.
Trillions At Stake
The proposal was released as Guterres is ramping up rhetoric online against fossil fuels. Last week Guterres tweeted that fossil fuels are at the heart of what he calls a “climate crisis.”
“The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels — period,” Guterres said.
He went on to call for all nations to phase them out entirely and make massive increases in investments of renewables.
The U.N. secretary didn’t explain how farms would run without diesel-powered machinery and modern fertilizers, which are derived from natural gas, or how the thousands of products that are made from fossil fuels — everything from aspirin to plastics — would be replaced.
Blackmon said Gutterres is responding to the growing pushback against renewables and the green energy agenda. This includes local opposition to wind and solar projects in the U.S. and the falling support for Germany’s Green Party, a nation that’s long been considered the leader in the energy transition.
“When there are trillions of dollars at stake, there's an awful lot of influence being peddled within these government organizations,” Blackmon said.