This is now a legacy site and could be not up to date. Please move to the new IGF Website at

You are here

IGF 2020 - Day 7 - WS218 Climate Change Disinformation - Beyond Confusion, Action

The following are the outputs of the real-time captioning taken during the virtual Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), from 2 to 17 November 2020. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid to understanding the proceedings at the event, but should not be treated as an authoritative record. 




     >> MODERATOR: So we'll start, right?  Good.  So I'll open the situation.  Hello to everyone, hello to all and to each one.  My name is Ricardo Grassi.  I'm a journalist, an author, an organizer.  I'm from Argentina, but I'm living in Rome since many years. 

     And I'm the Director General and head of policy of an organization, an independent organization, it's an initiative called Citizens Platform, Climate Change and Sustainable World.  We are working together with UNESCO, and in particular with Bhanu Neupane, who will today speak. 

     I want to thank very much to the Internet Governance Forum for accepting our proposal for the workshop.  I mean submitted by UNESCO and Citizens Platform.  And also, I want to thank each one of those that have enlisted to attend this workshop plus our speakers. 

     We wanted very much to consider in this context the climate disinformation and we add to this the double perspective trying to go beyond confusion created by disinformation and to generate action. 

     I mean disinformation and false information is an extremely disturbing issue that we have to face every day that generates among people, regular citizens, an enormous confusion.  And that confusion leads to inaction in a moment that we do need to be very proactive.

     Personally I think that we have instruments to do that, as those interested in stopping any change also have the instruments to do that and an enormous amount of resources to carry on their plans.

     This is a particular technology, and that is why we have invited two of the speakers that are very knowledgeable on their technologies that has to do with internet, social media platforms, and with artificial intelligence.  And at the same time, this is the nature of defining policies on how to move forward, how to curve this disinformation.  And for that, we count on people that is dealing with the science communication and defining policies that allow to try to balance this that is heavily imbalanced.

     I would like to put the accent on the need of coming together in a proactive way because personally I think that regulating the use of internet and particularly regulating the social media platforms is a very complex and probably much -- it's a very complex issue and probably much slower than the urgency we are facing would require. 

     I mean, the climate change issue is a very, very serious matter.  And we need to do it.  And that is why we put after the confusion, we put action.  I mean these social platforms are gigantic corporations.  Out of the 10 main social platforms, eight are based in one country, which is the United States.  And they are in synthesis the result of the neoliberal globalization and deregulation that still defines the world's governance.  I mean national and international levels.

     So that is a reality that is there.  I support the efforts, of course, to deal with this in terms of political relations and so on, but I also strongly support and believe the need of action from the Civil Society side.

     And I think that at the bottom line of the disinformation that we are considering in this workshop there is a deep lack of communication.

     We live in the illusion that we are all very much communicated and that we have the privilege of living in a fully informed society.  Not only this is an illusion.  We do live in bubbles organized by algorithms and the communication is much oriented.  While at the same time in my perception there is a deep communication between the north of the world and the south of the world. 

     Probably most of us live in a situation where we received real world analysis within this globality, the local dimensions of which we often know very little and particularly in that that we call the majority world or that we call the Global South.

     At the same time, there is an enormous activity going on despite the information and false and malinformation and all of the amount of financial resources that are put on that, we see those of us concerned about the climate issue, we have seen that weak in terms of the possibility of action.  Yet, youth generated this future mobilization that among different results produced one that is fundamental.

     Climate change is no longer an opinion, but fact.  And a fact that calls for action.  It's a kind of consultation between David and Goliath.  But this David generated an enormous mobilization, and that is the road that from the Civil Society side I think we need to move forward.

     In this we are people concentrated on communication and information.  And this is what the Citizens Platform for Climate Change is.  We have considered in working together with UNESCO.  And currently after very successful webinars in June and July, we are moving forward to what we call a climate change communication convergence which is coming all together to produce something that starts curving the disinformation process.

     So this would be my introduction for now.  And I would be very pleased to introduce Bhanu Neupane.  He is a program specialist from UNESCO in the communication and information sector.  He's a scientist, and particularly concerned about science communication.  So, Bhanu, if you could please come in.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: Thank you, Ricardo. 

     Indeed, the collaboration with IPS in this sphere and especially with Citizens Platform has produced some significant headway in curbing climate change disinformation as you just mentioned.

     Dear panelists and participants, climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that are characterized by changes in the mean end or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period.

     Such changes are long-term in nature and can lead to changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in the land use.  The impact of climate change have already begun to threaten the survival of humanity through direct destruction of habitat, violent weather phenomena, reduction of water and food supplies. 

     Right now I'm sitting here in Tampa.  And Tampa, in Florida, and we are -- in fact, there is a hurricane warning out there.  It was raining until recently.  So there is a state of chaos. 

     The U.S. is a very strong country, and U.S. has started to feel the brunt of climate change and its realities.  So let's think about, you know, the unary of the fragility of small countries in different parts of the world which are not as resource rich as U.S. is. 

     So in this sphere, human identity is directly concerned with and influenced by climatic information.

     Accurate information about climate change is vital to take the right decision, understand impacts and take urgent actions to mitigate its ill effect.  But disinformation or the falsehood designed to undermine the validity of scientific evidence not only permeates the sphere of climate change communication and information. 

     Such false information may delay and even hinder actions to respond to climate change.  It is thus crucial that these questions are properly addressed.

     And we all know that like COVID-19 pandemic, renewed tension has been prone to informational problems.  Disinformational problems and their detrimental impacts are familiar to us which work in the field of climate change. 

     During June through July, as Ricardo mentioned, we organized four webinars to take the agenda forward.  We established that there was urgent actions needed to start this or develop monitoring and fact-checking mechanism, support framework or governance-based responses through law and policies. 

     We have to curate information through technological and economic responses.  And also, and I think it is the most important that we bring all of the stakeholders together to normalize ethical and educational context to enable all concerned to assess the credibility of the sources that are producing this disinformation. 

     The global narrative from demand and supply side of information, the demand side requires that the correct information is generated for all stakeholders to connect with it.

     At the same time, supply side and -- needs to work in a better with the producers of information to curb the production of false information and prevent spread or produce more true information.  As you all know, and this was a recent statement, that almost in 60% of the total climate information is Twitter, generated by machines. 

     So our panel today is composed of speakers representing technologies, climate activism, trans value expert and communication expert. 

     So before we begin this discussion, I would like to invite the audience members to post any questions that you may have so that when the time will come we will either give you the floor or read out those questions for our panelists to respond to. 

     To start the discussion I would like to request our panelists to reflect on their experience on questions such as how does the interplay between systemic information campaigns, news, social media platform, et cetera and its understandings have a bearing on science and innovation?  What are some of the strategies that can be done? 

     First, I would like to invite Dr. Martina Klimes.  She's a good friend who works as an advisor for water and peace at SERI where she is responsible for the water and peace portfolio in addition to advising on serious activities on transboundary basins affected by water scarcity, political tension, and on violence. 

     She has recently turned her attention to how targeted disinformation pose dangerous and growing problem for transboundary water cooperation.

     And I think you may have recently watched some of the videos she has posted on YouTube and also on her LinkedIn profile on how disinformation can be dealt with properly by bringing the proper spirit of cooperation.  Martina, the floor is yours.

     >> MARTINA KLIMES: Thank you very much, Bhanu, and thank you everybody for the nice introduction. 

     I must say I'm happy that the Internet Governance Forum is looking into these issues related to climate change and disinformation.  Because as climate change, it really is one of the major concerns of our times. 

     I should say how I became first interested in disinformation in climate change and water cooperation, it was actually through a request we received by the government that we work with that is located in a region that really is hugely affected by water scarcity, political tensions, and conflicts.

     And the government said we never nerve received any -- we don't know how to deal with the situation.  We feel completely powerless.  We are dealing with the complex environmental situation, and we know that it will be only worse and worse.  We have regions in our country which really have almost no access to water.  And then we are constantly attacked by different information influence campaigns and we don't know how to respond to the situation.

     And that really made us think how disinformation and/or generally more information influence campaigns are also used in the trans-boundary setting or are targeted at countries that are affected by many other challenges.

     So for that we decided, SIWI, Stockholm International Water Institute, we actually looked at this challenge from the position of these governments.  What can we do?  And when looking more into this issue, it is really about the space in which disinformation campaigns thrive.

     So it is really about what the governments can do to limit this environment in which information influence campaigns can be used.

     And it is about really getting people's buy-in and increasing public awareness about the challenges to really understand both the importance of these issues and also the need for change.  It is very difficult, you can think how difficult it is in developed countries to really change behavior. 

     Maybe we should think about how to do we use resources?  What food we buy, how do we behave?  Just imagine how very different it can be in a country that is affected by many other challenges.  And how do you in this context really encourage everybody?

     Now we have to be considering also the climate aspects and we also need to maybe need to change our behavior.  We need to tell the farmers that maybe we cannot no longer really plan on planting wheat because that is a very important crop, maybe they need to change to quinoa. 

     So introducing the changes in the difficult countries is complex and, of course, this offers an opportunity for many different actors to use information influence campaigns to further destabilize the countries.

     And I think we need to look when thinking about disinformation and climate change, we really need to look at four different aspects.  One is climate.  What is really happening with climate change, climate variability? 

     And the other one is related to communication.  How do we communicate it from the government?  We see often there is a lack of transparency on different parts of the governance.  We also see that there is a very low trust between governments and public.

     And now we can also see this what happened with I think the COVID-19 pandemic really help us to understand that there is just in some places very, very low trust in any information that the government shares.

     It is being questioned.  People say I no longer believe in science.  So really -- and that also stems from the fact that there is a very low trust between governments and public that also contributes to the situation and environment in which disinformation thrive.

     And then we have politics.  We see that there are groups that actively manipulate knowledge transfer, they abuse the power symmetry.  For example, we know that we have technology that can, for example, predict droughts in the remote part of Africa.  How does this information get to the farmers and informs them that there will be drought?  Of course, we know also know that there is a lot of traditional knowledge, that the farmers also rely on this, and that this is also very important aspect.  But through modern technology, we can also use this and further advance their situation.

     However, the knowledge transfer about this is sometimes very slow and very weak.  And then we have groups who abuse this, who use the situation because -- because of both the environmental degradation but also a lack of knowledge of the future developments to really advance their own political gains.

     So this can be in regions, for example, different parts of Middle East are really affected by proxy wars and wars are now fueled not only by weapons by also by information.

     So you see a lot of different groups that are really trying to escalate situation in certain places by spreading either disinformation, or really using the situation that, for example, some groups of population do not trust the government, do not trust information that comes from the government and further abuse it to advance their own political gains. 

     So it is really about the tactics to actively manipulate the knowledge transfer.  And, of course, now we have a widely available social media.  Social media are available across the globe, as you know.

     So this is really not -- so this is really not only a situation of countries in the west or in developed countries, but really the spread of information is extremely much, much faster in all parts of the globe this, of course, also makes it easier to spread disinformation.

     And the last is data science.  Despite the internet technology, we still have data scarcity in some parts of the more fragile countries.  We also have lack of understanding of data and we have low science literacy among some decision makers.  Often -- and I think this is that organizations like SIWI but also organizations like UNESCO and the Citizen Platform can really play a very key role into transferring these very complex scientific messages into something that the decision makers can work with.  And this is important to help the decision makers know how to use science and how science can be their friend, how to use information and data to really argue for needs to change politics.

     We will see that -- and this is -- I think I will end with in.  Just imagine in some parts of the world, it is very challenging to make decisions that will really affect public behavior.  It is very difficult to challenge them to really start, for example, saving water in a certain way.  When they finally can maybe afford a solar panel to have their own well when there is just the general system is not working to really pass the message to these people that you also need to think about water sustainability.  You cannot just pump as you like. 

     So really to send these messages in a way that the citizens would trust it and then would trust that this is really in the interest of the future of their countries. 

     So these four aspects are extremely important.  Climate, what is happening with climate change.  How do we communicate it?  What about the low trust between the government and public?  The politics, who is really abusing the situation?  Who is taking advantage of this?  And how do we use data?  How can we use data better?  How can we use science better?

     I will end with this.  I think that the knowledge is already here.  It is just not equally distributed.  So we really need to make an effort how to get the right information to the people who need it, and how to empower governments who have mandates to make a change that would minimize the space in which disinformation campaigns thrive.

     >> You are muted.

     >> MARTINA KLIMES: I think I used my three to four minutes.  But I'm very happy to, of course, answer to other questions. 

     I'm happy -- I have some -- I have a slide that is examples of disinformation campaigns in context of trans-boundary waters so I can really show you specific examples and I can tell you how it affected certain processes.  But I thought we can do it in the second part of this.  But is that correct?

     >> MODERATOR: Exactly.  Perfect, Martina.  This introduction has been perfect.  It's extremely interesting.  And myself, I already have like some questions to put to you, and I look forward to seeing also those slides that would illustrate it better.

     We move forward.  I would like to introduce now Mr. Asher Minns.  Asher, besides being a friend, is the Executive Director Tyndall Centre for Climate -- Research Centre for Climate Change.  This year the Tyndall Centre is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  So it is 20 years working on climate change issues.

     And Asher, as its Executive Director and as the science communicator, because that is his know-how, is much into all of the issues of how science is communicated.  I mean the difficulties, the flaws in science communication.  And at the same time, with how to deal with the rejection of science, the disinformation, the false information, trying to curb or to isolate what science has been teaching us about this specific issue.

     So I would like Asher to tell us about it.

     >> ASHER MINNS: Thank you very much, Ricardo. Nice to be here in this panel, and also to people there in the internet sphere. 

     Exactly as Ricardo says, so I have been communicating climate change for 20 years since the founding of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change research.

     And to use Bhanu's terminology, I guess I'm one of the delivery or supplier people.  So I said we tend to supply the latest knowledge, the research, the commentary, the policy intervention ideas.  And it is my job to help our researchers get their very useful information to where it is that their useful information is supposed to be.

     However, that just sounds like a pipeline of delivering information.  The communication of climate change is really all about dialogue.  And that is where the internet has something very different to traditional media, which is that it can be a lot more interactive.  However, we do know from lots of research that traditional media is still where people get information about climate change from and most of their -- most of their news from.

     So, you know, the internet and traditional media, albeit traditional media online, serve slightly different purposes.  And I think some of that also is about not only the news gathering abilities of traditional media, but also the trust in source as well.  And I think as exactly as Martina was saying there, trust in source is how all of us all the time evaluate information because we can't possibly be an expert in absolutely everything.

     So mostly we look, as does the public, but we are the public, we look to see where information is coming from.  If we trust that source of information, that is generally the information that we will be -- that we will be taking and talking to our friends and family about.

     All to do with our values, less than the information ourself.  And, of course, that is exactly where the internet has an enormous malaise of how do people trust information that is on the internet versus provided by a traditional media which, right or wrong, is supposed to have some quite professional journalistic norms.  Now that might not always be the case, but that is the theory.

     But I think before we get too worried about misinformation and disinformation about climate change, we have to remember how hugely successful the communication of climate change has been.  As I said, I've been doing this for 20 years, and I'm not trying to claim this as my success at all, but when I started, nobody knew anything about climate change.  Maybe some governments were interested, or I would maybe get invited to a village hall to talk to some farmers about how the climate is changing or something. 

     And now it is this big, big public policy issue.  We are here talking about it.  And we have the Paris Agreement of 2015.  Next year will be the Glasgow UN Summit as a follow-up to Paris.  We can see it all around us, we hear it all the time, information about climate change.  So there is certainly no deficit of information about climate change. 

     It has been remarkable in engaging policy and public with an issue of our day.  Now the one interesting thing or an interesting thing I think about the internet and the internet governance is the internet is probably still wide open in terms of engaging people with climate change. 

     People on the internet are already interested in climate change, they're looking for information in climate change.  And most information about climate change on the internet is not very good quality.  And I will hold up my hand and say well, that's true of my organization as well.  It isn't an easy topic to communicate well.  It is a huge topic.  There is many different types of audiences for information about climate change.  And so nobody has got it worked out on the internet yet. 

     The communication of climate change on the internet is still very much a work in progress, and it is still taking baby steps.  It is not at all grown up yet.  And that is something that the CitizenS Platform is hoping -- trying to help with.

     And my second sort of caution about having said about the communication of climate change hugely successful overall is also in terms of misinformation, disinformation that we must remember that most people are not out there at the extremes of the bell curve.  They are not right at the end. 

     The majority of people, they're here in the middle, and that is the people that are being engaged with and talk about climate change.  Don't worry too much about the people out at the extremes.  They can be influential, and they need quite specific ways of dealing with and engaging them, but most people's hearts and minds, they're in the middle and not out there.

     And one of the -- well, the worries about misinformation and disinformation is often it is not about the information itself.  It is about this erosion of trust in scientific evidence.  So we've talked about trust already, trust in source. 

     And misinformation and disinformation often hasn't got anything to do with the actual information about climate change.  They are actually trying to ask questions to erode trust in where that information comes from because that is how we evaluate information that we are not expert in.  We wait and see. 

     And I have not actually looked at this yet really but, of course, COVID has really brought science back to the top of public interest in every country in the world.  And so wait and see, or at least I haven't looked yet to see what -- how that's changed, if at all, how people are thinking about science and what science can do for society, which is different from what governments say about science. 

     So there are two very specific things.  Science from the scientists, from the experts, and then information mediated through governments and others.

     And certainly towards the beginning or the beginning of the pandemic and going on and perhaps it is a bit less now, I was really surprised, but I couldn't help but note all of the different sorts of pundits, none of which had any qualifications whatsoever commenting on and disputing about numbers and policy choices, you know, journalists, random people on Twitter, also sort of putting their opinion out there.  Some of which were very big audiences.  Some of which are actually ex-presidents of major global countries.  You know, just basically giving their opinion as if it has the same value as experts.

     And so we'll have to -- we'll have to look to see how trust in science currently stands.  Trust in science is always high.  I'm going to imagine it has gone higher, but I could be wrong.

     I just wanted to finish with sort of just four very quick lessons around anything that we are doing around communicating climate change misinformation, disinformation.  Communicate, I teach a little bit, and these are some of the hard learned lessons, but these are actually all rooted in theory as well.

     So I mean the first one is don't amplify misinformation or disinformation.  It is too easy to argue back.  And but what you actually do when you are arguing back is often you then amplify that information to an audience that didn't see that information to begin with.  So starve misinformation or disinformation from the opposite of publicity is an ideal thing to do.

     It is interesting when we look at Trump's tweets, the fact that Trump's tweets now get marked as "this tweet might not be true" is the fact checking actually makes a news story.  So that's a million people now alerted to the fact that what somebody said wasn't true.  But they didn't read, they are not following Trump's Twitter feed to begin with.  So there is something in there.  So starve the oxygen of publicity.

     Taking responsibility from how we are heard is completely different from what it is that we think we said.  And there we are talking about things like cognitive bias whereby we are all accumulating the information that supports our world view.  And similarly with values.

     And we can absolutely work with that.  And I was talking a little bit about the extremes.  You can work with that.  You can work with values.  You can work with cognitive bias certainly when you're dealing with the extremes, but also when you are working with everybody else as well. 

     And pay attention to psychological distance which is that climate change seems far away from the future happening to somebody in a distant land.  That is really not the case anymore.  It is happening here and now so we don't have to talk about climate as a future thing.  It's a now thing. 

     And just to reinforce around working with people's values.  It is not just about information, fact.  Is this a good fact?  Is this a bad fact?  Are these numbers good?  Are these numbers bad?  Has this been interpreted correctly? 

     Working with people's values sort of gets us around a lot of those issues.  I will stop there.  Thank you very much for listening, and I look forward to hearing the other panelists and your questions.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: Thank you, Asher.  In fact, you raised points that trust definitely is an issue.  And it essentially reminds me of two studies which were published earlier this year. 

     One by Brown University, which actually established that 25% of all tweets that was generated around climate change were generated by bots and they were not in a human -- there was not at all any human intervention in generating those bots. 

     The other thing is John Hopkins also published in another study -- and they went and evaluated to what extent the information on the cyberspace right now related to COVID-19 is based on the fact or, quote-unquote, fiction.  And their finding was also very interesting.  It looks like our lives are slowly like being data mined and kind of guided by the kind of technology that we have surrounded ourselves with.

     So to discuss this thing, we have got Marko Grobelnik with us.  He is a researcher in the field of artificial intelligence.  His focused area of expertise are machine learning, data text, web mining, network analysis, semantic technology, and deep text understanding and data visualization. 

     Marko co-leads the International Lab at Jozef Stefan Institute.  And he contributed to the establishment of UNESCO's category two center on artificial intelligence -- International Research Center on AI.  Recently, yet to be inaugurated, but it has been confirmed by UNESCO as the new category two center. 

     He is also the CEO of, and he specializes in solving complex AI tasks for the commercial world.  He collaborates with major European academy institution and does quite a lot of work.  Marko is co-author of several books and he has founded several startups.

     So one of the things that I must say is in 2016 Marko became digital champion of Slovenia at European Commission level.  So With that, Marko, the floor is yours. 

     You are muted, so can you please unmute yourself and provide your view, and what can technology do to shed light on this and bring some trust in the current sphere of climate change disinformation.

     >> MARKO GROBELNIK: Bhanu, Thanks.  This was too long CV to read. 

     Yeah, so I'm coming from the area of artificial intelligence.  What we do a lot is building with information and understanding disinformation flows. 

     So I prepared a couple of slides.  Maybe if some slides will be shown afterwards, maybe I can show mine now.  Let me just take the screen.  Maybe just to start, right. 

     So what I'm showing here is the live picture of information on climate change as it's being published in recent minutes or hours, right, across the world.  So the actual information flow is even faster what you see.  But this is like something which is happening right now on the topic of climate change.

     Might be proper information.  Might be disinformation, we don't know.  But this, as you see, it appears in all of the languages, right, Chinese and Arabic and many others, right.

     So this is -- so we have pretty much good sense of who is talking what.  This is mainstream media, this is not social media, right.  But still just to give you a sense what is happening at the moment, right.

     Okay.  Now, let's -- now it is not just about collecting information and understanding, it is trying to -- we need to understand while the content but not just the content but also the dynamics of information spread so that we can actually react, guide, and steer towards information which we would like to pursue.

     Okay.  What is the ecosystem which we talk about with disinformation or misinformation or even proper information, right. 

     First we have social media, which we touched already.  What are the key features of social media?  It's fast spreading.  Mostly no context, which provides good ground for manipulation, right.  And prone to this echo chamber effect. 

     Why it's prone to echo chamber effect?  Because typically social media is run by big companies and they optimize their business goals, KPIs and somehow these KPIs usually are higher if you create echo chambers and people seem to be happier on the short term, right.  So this is social media.

     Then we have blogs.  These are usually a little bit longer document, right, can be influential.  It's kind of not as fast as social media, it's more like medium speed.  No editorial.  So this is again issue where we -- which allows manipulation and usually these would be more like compact social circles.

     Mainstream media.  Again, kind of medium speeds, editorial.  Higher trust and broader social circles generally.  And then we have in this ecosystem also research papers.  Slower.  Peer reviewed, high trust, but very small social circles.

     This is the ecosystem which we talk about.  And why I am mentioning this is because this -- later I will touch the point why we need the data, right, if we want to steer the discussion.

     Now, one key issue is to understand how information spreads, right, and how echo chambers appear.  I will show now just a few seconds of video.  So how information spreads from mainstream media towards social media. 

     You see this is -- in the center is one "New York Times" article.  And this is now -- every circle is one hour and how social media picks up information from one single "New York Times" article.  And each line which you see here is basically one opinion line.  So this is how information spreads, right?

     The point is to catch this information, to understand the dynamics, where it goes, and to steer it in the right direction.  Here on the right side, I won't show the second video, but here on the right side you would see these clusters which are basically echo chambers in the end, right.

     So it is everybody within this echo chamber is more or less convincing each other about the same thing, right, while they don't really have good contact with others.

     Now the point is how to break these echo chambers so that we don't get these isolated things.  Now, just one small comics, which maybe you have seen it and maybe not.  I really like it.  So how social influence works, right.

     So there is a guy staring up, right.  And then a few more come, and they all are starring up.  Still not clear really what is happening there, right?  The lady spots them.  They are all staring up so she starts staring up as well, right?  The angel on the top, right, spots all these people staring up so he should know, I guess.  But no, eventually he also starts staring up, right.

     So this is how this media and these echo chambers work, right. Nobody really understands why everybody is staring up at the end, right?

     So now just to conclude, there were a couple of key policy questions which we touched which were in the opening text.

     I just wanted to touch some of them, right.  I mean some -- address some of the issues, right.  So how are -- the first question is how are existing and emerging digital technologies being used to facilitate the production and dissemination of disinformation about climate change? 

     So today's technology, like social media certainly increased speed of information.  I mean this is something as compared to like 10-20 years ago, the information speed spread is much faster.

     And the goal, as I mentioned before, or the effect are these echo chambers which are mostly aligned with the business goals of companies which are running this.

     These dynamics which is happening, these echo chambers certainly accelerates public polarization and causes people to be more resistant to change their beliefs as well, right? 

     So this is what we are fighting really, right?  So as long as we can change people's beliefs, it is fine.  But if we have the whole media space stuck in a state where we cannot change them, then we cannot win, right? 

     As we see, the future technologies want to automate critical thinking in the near future.  So we will be there for at least 10 more years, I would say, right.  Climate change topic is just one of the many victims of the same principles.  COVID discussions, as Bhanu was saying, same thing, right.

     So how to combat this disinformation, right?  So here on the right side, I put this one graph.  So I'm dealing with AI, right?  So AI is really about complex systems, how to deal with complex systems.  And the information space is a complex system. 

     Now we see this public opinion being just one type of a complex system which you can steer if you have the right tools, right?  And so here the point is so if this small circle here is public opinion and we want to bring it from here to here, we just need to find the right tools, the right mechanisms being applied to the right times.

     So this is pretty much how marketing works, how psychology and how many other things are working.  The same thing is here, right.  So to achieve this, right, to be in a position to even start systematically influencing, first we need to have the proper landscape of the origin of information and also how this information is spreading.

     So without this, everything is just a guess, right?  So this is systematic approach.  And next step, right, these operators, these actions basically should be psychologically, pedagogically, or scientifically founded, right, to boost the trust.

     And just the last slide, the question was what sort of policies or regulations could be formulated?  So let's say three fact checking at the moment, this is really short-term thing what we can do, right?  Still mostly manually done by experts. 

     And then breaking echo chambers.  This is more like a mid-term goal and cannot be done without the help of social media companies.  Whatever we do, we cannot do this if Facebook or Twitter or others are not cooperating, right.

     And structure to education.  This is more like long-term goal, right.  And okay, here are a couple of other recommendations maybe which we don't need to go to -- into details.

     So much from my side, more like from the technological side how to operate with public opinion and climate awareness about climate change is just one of these public opinion topics.  Important ones, but just one of them.  Thanks.

     >> MODERATOR: Thanks to you, Marko.  Thank you very much for this so detailed exposition of how things are working which is fundamental to learn how to move on and to define our own policies. 

     Now this is what we are trying to do from the Citizen's Platform including -- and this with specific support of UNESCO, we are just starting to build a tool to be able to track specific disinformation or false information in some social media, particularly in Twitter.  Because that would be a good place to analysis and to output to be disseminated among the people.

     And this is one of the roles created by Citizens Platform that have been created by journalists, artists, in synergy with scientists and experts.  And that moves to the convergence I mentioned before. 

     Linked to this, I want to introduce Mr. Fabian Sivnert because we are working together but currently in building this tool. 

     He is the Co-Founder and the Head of Analytics of a communications company called Ancored that is based in Stockholm.  And Fabian is an expert in communication assessment founded on data analysis.  And he is a former researcher and contributor at University of Oxford, the Oxford Internet Institute and Chatham House.

     So as an expert on these matters, I would like Fabian to speak.

     >> FABIAN SIVNERT: Thank you so much, Ricardo, thank you.  Hello.  We are obviously delighted to be here and chat with you all today. 

     And a special thanks to Bhanu and UNESCO as well as, of course, Ricardo of the Citizens Platform, and of course every other distinguished panelist who have spoken.  It is incredibly interesting to be here and share all the insights and understand what we're all thinking, and obviously and most fundamentally, everyone is here listening today. 

     I think that that is obviously one of the keys to spreading this information that we have here today. 

     As Ricardo said, I'm head of analytics of a next gen strategic information firm called Ancored, fundamentally founded on the principles that data and strategy go hand in hand.  Those are two fundamental aspects that we need to control in order to be able to communicate in a better way.

     So my purpose here today is speaking a little bit more from the technology side, but also on a methodological side of understanding how we can really approach these things.  And obviously, as Ricardo mentioned a little bit, so we are currently working with the Citizens Platform of developing a scientific methodological approach to how to assess and track fake news or disinformation, specifically focusing right now on Twitter. 

     The research and methodology that we're working with came about when I was a graduate student at the University of Oxford and working specifically with the Oxford Internet Institute focusing on trying to track this.

     And I think that this comes very naturally to one of the things that Marko said is that we are in right now in a short-term look and we need to try to start tracking these things so we can start making an impact especially on the three questions that we have been discussing about. 

     In essence, not to be too long or too detailed, I think that what we're trying to produce is a three-step process.  And obviously, number one is going to be to identify disinformation and fake news.

     And how would we go about doing this is a function of do you go pure AI, so you let computers and algorithms do everything?  Or do you combine humans?  And we are of the fundamental understanding that right now we need both. 

     We need artificial intelligence to track the conversations, but this needs to be informed by humans that can understand the nuances, that can understand the difference between sarcasm and humor and fact. So it's very important for us to include people in our process as we're trying to understand this.  Which means that we're getting to data plus experience. 

     And the next step, once we then identified let's say the big bad wolf of sharing and spreading fake information, we obviously need to track them.  Because simply identifying them is insufficient.  We need to understand what they're saying, how frequently are they posting, what are they posting about, which regions are they focusing on? We need to gather information on them.

     And once we have that, we obviously need to start trying to combat it.  But we combat it by knowing the data, knowing what they are focusing on, knowing what they re trying to target.

     So really addressing kind of like the three questions that was addressed originally in the seminar like emerging technologies.  How is that using to further fake news, and how can we combat it?  And then which policies can we use to try to hinder it? 

     So from our perspective, we can't address part three, policies, without first dealing with one and two.  We need data to inform policies.  And data without insights is going to be useful and insights without data is going to be pointless.  We need both data and insights.  And that is the fundamental thing that I think that we all are speaking about today is that we need information, data, to then inform policies.

     And that is exactly what we were trying to work with, with Citizens Platform right now.

     And I think that rather than just carrying on too long here, I can happily just end there for now so we can take some questions from the audience as well.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: Thank you so much, Fabian.  That actually brings us to a very -- some very interesting questions. 

     I see that, you know, there are a couple of questions have been asked, and they are primarily to Martina.  Martina, if you read those question and maybe try to respond to that. 

     And after that, I have got one question for Marko, and the other one for Fabian.  So Ricardo and I will take turns in asking you questions. 

     But this one which has come from the audience which is pretty much like in your comfort zone, Martina.

     >> MARTINA KLIMES: I see -- is the question about conflict resolution in trans-boundary water cooperation. 

     So I will try to quickly answer that.  And Aleksandra, you are very welcome to reach out to me afterwards if you would like to know more because I understand that this is not even to focus on trans-boundary water cooperation.

     But I do also try to in my answer say a little bit how disinformation and information influence campaigns in general affect these processes so to really put the capability in our context.

     So for -- you may know that there is 310 trans-boundary basins across the world.  That means that it is rivers that are being shared by two or more countries.  And it is more than half of the world's population that is dependent on fresh water from these rivers, trans-boundary rivers.  And most of -- I think over 60% of them, they lack any form of agreement how to manage these waters.

     And then what we have, the framework is really international water law.  And that is quite complex.  As you know, in international law there is no higher arbitral.  So we have the basic principles like duty to cooperate.  You cannot cause significant harm.  And also reasonable and equitable use of water.

     But it is really about the countries to find -- they have to find a common agreement, and it really needs to be owned by all countries that share a particular river basin. 

     Of course, in some river basins that are not really so challenged geopolitically, it is really much more matter of fact, it's more a technical discussion. 

     But then in the most famous difficult basins like the Nile, you have Tigris, Jordan, we also have Mekong.  As a very famous agreement we have an agreement in India and Pakistan.  It's really then all other issues come into play.  And that is where information is so important. 

     What we see is often these countries when we look into these water disputes, they are actually not in agreement what is the main challenge for the basin, what is the main challenge for the region.

     They don't trust each other's data.  They don't trust, for example, how is the water used?  And how will the future look?  We have a lot of -- even there where we have agreements, we don't actually know how much water availability and water demands we will have because we have a -- because of climate change, we have less water in the system.

     And we also have growing population so we have higher demand. We are complex societies.  We need more water for agriculture, we need more water for industries, and we are still not yet very good at using new technology how to be more efficient in our water use.

     So it is really data and information is extremely important.  And often this is actually abused.  There is a lot of disinformation being spread.  For example, in upstream countries there is those who would like to maybe fight an agreement.  There is a lot of public opposition because in general there is a very low awareness about the principles of international water law. 

     I agree it is really not a very popular subject, I admit, that really explain the general population that maybe it is in our interest to find that agreement with our neighbors how we can jointly govern these shared water resources.  And then we will all have enough water, and it will be better for the whole region when we can really think of sustainable policies. 

     So there we work with information and public awareness about these processes and also public awareness about upcoming challenges.

     And we also work with the information that, of course, the policy makers have.  Often in trans-boundary basin it is all negotiation in any context, it's an art of compromise.  And imagine if you have a whole public against you. 

     And we have seen cases, for example, in the Euphrates and Tigris, the previous water minister from Iraq would go to negotiate with Turkey.  And he was often subjected to information influence campaigns.  There were specific disinformation campaigns focused on him that it was extremely difficult to reach any kind of compromise with the upstream country because there were incorrect accusations that he had secret bank account in Turkey, for example, and all kinds of information.  And it was that he is selling our water.  And this spread fast so then it was very difficult in that type of climate to really come up to any kind of solution.

     We also have, there is, you know the whole situation in the Nile between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.  There is a lot of different disinformation campaigns floating about that situation. 

     It is really about, yes, the information that we have available for the policy makers, information that is available for the public, and some information that public can trust.  And if we improve this, it would significantly help us to achieve some shared solutions for these very complex challenges. 

     And I think I will stop here on this issue because it is much more complex.  Under human right, I can only say that human right to water is an individual right.  And then historical water rights that would refer more to rights of countries.  SO these two are different things. 

     And there is a special -- of course, there is a special rule on human right to water, that has helped many leaders individual person is entitled.  It changes if you, for example, are based in IDP camp your daily need is lower than if you are in another situation. 

     But I should say that this is really a little bit different topic so please do reach out if you would like to learn more about this.

     >> MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Martina.  We have been warned that time is almost due.  There is a question for Fabian Sivnet.  I see that.  I don't know if you've read it, Fabian.

     >> FABIAN SIVNERT: Yeah, I did.  I will happily answer it briefly in terms of I think that the way that we approach data, specifically in what we're doing with Citizens Platform is that we are focusing on not the tweets themselves but rather the information that they are trying to share. 

     Specifically focusing on URLs.  So when we get the data itself, we treat it as neutral.  We don't treat it as negative or positive.  But then when we assess each individual URL, which is done through human coding, we must then assess whether or not the information is trying to express positive sentiment or negative sentiment.  We treat that originally as neutral and then based on understanding and expertise from humans, we then assess it based off of that.

     >> MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much.  Thank you very much.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: I just had a very small question to Asher. 

     Asher, do you think it is more crucial to target malicious actors who produce false information or social media sites which are unwittingly having false information?  Which should we act or address first?

     >> ASHER MINNS: From my perspective of somebody who deals with the research and the new knowledge, it would be the actors rather than social media. 

     I would argue that you have got -- ignoring bots, you have got influencers.

     And so those thought leaders tend to be the influencers that then often set the pattern.  So that is not to say ignore social media.  I think for me also it is a question of resources, where do I put my effort?  And so if something is wrong or incorrect or misunderstood, then I will probably put my effort on the influencer rather than the sort of the mass everybody.

     >> MODERATOR: Thank you, Asher.  I think you have a question for Marko you said.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: Yes, I have a question for Marko. 

     If bots can spread disinformation, why can't bots be utilized to spread the correct information?  Why are the bad guys winning which I don't understand?  Is there anything that you can add?

     >> MARKO GROBELNIK: Certainly we can make bots which could spread right information as well, this is not problem. But if you want to do this, this seems like polluting the information space.  This is maybe one comment to this.

     That is why I was putting on my slides this item that social media companies need to cooperate, right?  For them, it is way easier to spot and block the bots.  As we -- I mean, we cannot stop them, right?  We can just fight in the same way. 

     But I'm not sure if we want to put ourselves to that level, right, to, you know, to send our bots.  We can, no problem.  Maybe even then it would be cheaper to pay the same people which are creating these other bots to create our bots as well.  Just economically speaking, right?

     But not sure if we want to do this because it is really pollution, information pollution.  But without cooperation of social media companies, it is really hard to win this battle with bots, right.

     >> MODERATOR: I would like to comment on that.  Personally, I think that social media companies cooperation is a difficult thing.

     We just have five more minutes.  But briefly, if we have created Citizens Platform, we do believe in the power of proper information and that without proper information, I mean super accurate information plus adding reporting what a lot of people is currently doing, implementing worldwide regarding climate change and sustainable development, should be enough if properly organized to curb the disinformation.

     The point is that we are an enormous amount of sources of information, or organizations and people concerned about the climate change and how to start building a different paradigm because this is the bottom line of all this. 

     I mean we grow in the paradigm, we moved in the paradigm that has been installed there.  And to change the current efforts, we need to start introducing other kind of considerations.

     Now, this spread of sources here and there, here and there, I mean the point is to try to come together and not competing because there is no need to compete or it makes no sense to compete.

     And that is why with UNESCO we started talking about a convergence, a communications convergence.  I mean, adding resources, adding know-how to produce constantly.  And you need quality and quantity. 

     And that is the way that we believe we have to move forward in the context where you don't only have internet and social media.  You have traditional media.  You have advertisements agencies.  And that apart from those that most of us are able to consult, the enormous amount of media worldwide is producing superficial information.  No follow-up.  No analysis.  No linking one thing to the other.  And so this is part of the disinformation, let's say, more than false news.

     So with this, I would like to see if someone else has any other comment?  Otherwise, our time is over.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: We have that one small thing to request everyone.  If you think -- because we still have about three minutes. 

     Please take like 20 seconds to say what do you want UNESCO or the Citizens Platform and maybe SIWI and all of us do together, just in one statement and something that we can essentially provide as a recommendation of this panel discussion. 

     So maybe we will start from you, Martina, and then go around in the same. Just one statement.

     >> MARTINA KLIMEK: I just would like to add here what Ricardo said is that often in the regions where we work is because people do not trust government but they trust people they know and that is why they listen to social media because that is a mean how to communicate with people they know. 

     So if something is forwarded by a friend, then in certain regions one doesn't question it because one trusts the person.  And that is really being abused, how the disinformation spreads because there is ultimately no trust in government but there is a lot of trust in like the private relations.  And social media is just means for spreading this. 

     And it's a very good question.  And I must say that SIWI is really very much looking forward to working on this and we would really like to see how we could better communicate science, and what we can do, how we can better share these messages and minimize the space for the disinformation campaign.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: Asher, timer is on you, 20 seconds.

     >> ASHER MINNS: I agree quite a lot with what Martina was just saying.

     It's all to do with trust in source.  It's the personal relationship, your friends at the dinner table, on Twitter or other social media.  But we should certainly be aware, as I think Marko is saying, this is all within a bubble and it's actually talking outside of the bubbles, especially with social media.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: Marko?

     >> MARKO GROBELNIK: My message is just we shouldn't be naive, right.  And we should fight this discussion with he same or stronger tools as are being used for misinformation.  So we should be naive.  It's fine, Citizens Platform, we should optimize the reach and the impact, right.  This is the KPI which we need to optimize.  Nothing else, right.

     >> FABIAN SIVNERT: One of things that is key here from our perspective is we need to make sure that everything we talk about is in some way, shape, or form supported by facts. 

     And try to provide data, if you can.  Try to follow, as we have been mentioning here, influencers or key individuals who are informing the narrative in a positive sense.  Try to keep them engaged, try to be there and support them as much as you can.

     >> BHANU NEUPANE: Thank you so much.  Thank you, you know, from Ricardo and my self.  We are signing off.

     And thank you so much to the panelists.  And you have been so nice and so to the point and precise.

     We will prepare a report and we'll share with you.  And then this recording I think will be available.  Everything is transcribed so we can also utilize that for our report or for preparing the news item.

     >> MODERATOR: Thank you very much to each one of you.  And thanks to the Internet Governance Forum for giving us this opportunity. 

     I feel this just like adding and the departing point again, we should continue in contact and working together.  Martina, I will contact you quickly.  Bye-bye


Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 411