“Tell me, when you are alone with George, does he take off his face and let you see his mask?”
(With apologies to Oscar Wilde).
George Monbiot hates astroturfed trolls whom, he says, are skewing the debate over global warming. Whenever a piece on global warming, carbon emissions or climate science is published, organized trolls appear and dominate the discussion in the commentary.
We all know what trolls are in internet jargon: they are the online equivalent of the schoolground bully or loud-mouthed pub bore who tries to shout down all contrary opinion and discussion, and indulges in personal and sometimes venomous attacks. But what are astroturfed trolls and what is an astroturf campaign? Here’s Monbiot’s definition:
An astroturf campaign is one that mimics spontaneous grassroots mobilisations but which has in reality been organised
I’m not suggesting that most of the people trying to derail these discussions are paid to do so, though I would be surprised if none were. I’m suggesting that some of the efforts to prevent intelligence from blooming seem to be organised, and that neither website hosts nor other commenters know how to respond.
So, astroturfed trolling is organized trolling. It is the coordination of people with a certain point of view, and the direction of them to certain websites and blogs, in an attempt to sway or influence public opinion. Monbiot believes this is a threat to freedom of speech and even democracy, and warns:
The internet is a remarkable gift, which has granted us one of the greatest democratic opportunities since universal suffrage. We’re in danger of losing this global commons as it comes under assault from an army of trolls and flacks, many of them covertly organised or trained.
That’s what Monbiot opines in the environment section of a major British newspaper. A covertly organized army of trolls (his words) are the biggest threat to internet freedom. Which leads one to wonder: if that’s the case, why is he so intent on raising an organized army to influence public opinion?
Monbiot is the “honorary president” of an internet organisation called The Campaign Against Climate Change [CCC] – http://www.campaigncc.org/whoweare . And what does the CCC do? Well, it scans the internet for articles on global warming and directs its army of supporters to the comments sections in the hope of influencing the debate.
The website of the CCC brazenly declares that “We are trying to create an online army”. An “online army”? But surely, that’s a threat to internet freedom? Well, maybe, but like the crusaders, Monbiot’s army knows that its cause is just and so any action it takes is also justified.
So, what will enlisting in this “online army” involve then?
You will receive one e-mail alert per day containing links to various climate change news articles. We need you to politely explain in the comments section why global warming is actually happening and why it’s not a big conspiracy. You can contribute to as little or as many articles as you like, just dive in
The purpose of this online army, according to Monbiot’s CCC is to “tip the balance back in the favour of scientific fact, not scientific fiction”. They want people to accept the ‘consensus’ on global warming, as represented by the IPCC’s reports.
Well, that’s what they start by saying. Just a little further down the same page, and the online army are invited to go even further, to go “onto the offensive”:
One last suggestion from us – you can also consider going onto the offensive and explain that the real uncertainty about man-made climate change is not whether its happening but how fast its happening and that in fact there is increasing evidence that the mainstream science of the IPCC is actually underestimating the scale and imminence of the threat.
Having recruited an online army with the alleged aim of tipping the balance towards the ‘scientific fact’ of the IPCC ‘consensus’, Monbiot’s online army is being exhorted to argue against that “mainstream science” and to persuade people that things are even worse than the mainstream scientists tell them.
One item is noticeable by its absence: there is not one word on the CCC website asking its “online army” to let people know how they came to visit the websites and message boards. You could be thinking you are debating someone who has a genuine interest in the controversy that swirls around global warming, whereas you are merely engaging with someone from CCC’s online army who’s only there because they’ve been told to be there to repeat the party line on global warming.
Monbiot argues in public that “An astroturf campaign is one that mimics spontaneous grassroots mobilisations but which has in reality been organised” but is at the head of an organization that declares “We are trying to create an online army”. Hypocrisy? You decide.
One last thing – Please don’t join the online army of organized trolls by signing up to CCC’s email list. That would be organized trolling, and – remember – it’s a threat to online freedom and democracy (if you’re a skeptic, that is. If you’re an alarmist, then here’s the web address: http://www.campaigncc.org/node/384 ).