Resisting threats to climate action and justice

This guidance is here to help you spot counter-climate and justice messaging and misinformation, both online and offline, and to give you the steps to take action.

10 Jul 2024

Over the last few years, there’s been a concerning and growing trend in the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Social media platforms do little to stop the spread of this online. In fact, they actually profit from it. Serving up radicalised content keeps us online for longer, meaning they can feed us more adverts and make more money. Promoting misinformation about climate is now outperforming content from climate scientists.

There's strong ramifications to the growing trend of divisive content online. For example during the pandemic a lot of misinformation and disinformation about vaccines and lockdowns put people, especially people at high risk, in danger of catching Covid. Counter-climate and justice messaging is not only an online issue, it occurs in-person too. Our guidance will help you tackle instances of this both online and offline.

What can your group do to guard against counter-climate and justice narratives?

 First, it’s important to know what you’re looking for.

Misinformation is false information that’s spread regardless of whether there’s intent to mislead. Unlike disinformation, misinformation can exist without specific malicious intent. Misinformation can include inaccurate, incomplete, misleading or false information, as well as selective or half-truths. While disinformation is false information deliberately spread in order to influence public opinion and obscure the truth.

Here’s how you can tackle misinformation and disinformation.

Report misinformation and disinformation

Stopping the spread of counter-climate and counter-justice messaging online is important. If you see anything on social media platforms that doesn’t look right, whether it’s a post by a celebrity or a message from a family member in a WhatsApp group, you can report it.

You can report to Global Action Plan, an environmental charity aiming to gather and understand the breadth of climate conspiracies and denialism online.

We’re supporting Global Action Plan's vital work which is fundamental to holding the major platforms like Meta (Facebook), WhatsApp and X (formerly Twitter) accountable. You won’t be added to any mailing lists and your data won’t be saved.

Stay safe online

It’s best not to directly engage with popular accounts spreading anti-climate action and anti-justice. We’re not talking about individuals with varying viewpoints, including those at the extreme end. But those whose audience is built on dis/misinformation and those who profit off serving us this information. At best it’ll waste your time and at worst, you’ll be harassed and possibly threatened. Plus, those algorithms will be boosted, resulting in further promotion of this kind of content.

  • Delete comments by anti-climate action and justice contributors on your posts, so no-one else can see them. You can always take a screenshot first if you want to keep a record of them.
  • If comments or messages are threatening, report them to the social media platform and to the police.
  • Take a screenshot of the comments, posts or messages that you see and send them to Global Action Plan.

For more ways to stay safe online, have a read of our guides:

 

Stay safe in public

Make sure to plan your events well, including by risk assessing and developing contingency plans for your events being disrupted by people promoting anti-climate action/ justice views.

Plan how you would handle such eventualities.

  • Do a risk assessment in advance and agree together how you would deal with anti-climate action/ justice disturbances at your event. Download and use our template risk assessment.
  • Consider having a dedicated number of people to steward events. Stewards can watch out for potential disrupters, liaise with the chair/host of the event and speakers, and, if needed, contact the police to ensure the safety of everyone present. The presence of stewards at an event can provide reassurance that the event will be a safe space. It’ll also act as a signal to any disrupters that there’s a means of dealing with disruption.
  • Outline and set ground rules at the beginning of your hustings/ event. Include strict guidance on how bullying, harassment and abusive language and behaviour will be dealt with. If a participant goes against these, you’ll have strong grounds to expel them from the event. You can use our stance on anti-discrimination and harassment and our training agreement or adapt them to create your own set of ground rules.
  • Stay calm. If faced with conflict or aggression, prioritise de-escalation techniques such as maintaining a calm demeanour, active listening and finding common ground. Avoid engaging in verbal or physical altercations that could compromise your and other peoples’ safety.
  • Carry on. So long as someone’s behaviour doesn’t contravene your ground rules, it may be that people attempting to spread dis/misinformation at your event are met with truthful and factual clarification from other participants and leave having had relatively little impact.

In extreme cases, if you consider that continuing your event would put you or any number of participants at risk of harm, you should end your event. Support any at-risk participants to return home safely. You might decide to call the police if you believe that a crime has been committed or anyone is in immediate danger.

Show your solidarity

Often counter-climate and counter-justice groups target and attack other communities such as people of colour, the LGBTQIA+ community and refugees. Acts of solidarity can be an excellent way to demonstrate allyship while dispelling myths that have been touted about them.

Solidarity could be anything from a simple photo stunt with messaging on placards to joint statements of support and full-scale events, such as festivals that celebrate difference. Reach out to communities that are targeted by extremist groups in your area and find out what you can do to support them.

Counter-protests are really effective in demonstrating solidarity. A counter-protest is a protest staged to counter or oppose another protest. If a counter-protest is happening in your area, you may want to join it.

Assess risk. Before taking part in any counter-protest research the event, its organisers, objectives and potential risks. Stay updated on any changes or developments leading up to the protest. If your group is staging the counter-protest, plan meticulously and carry out a thorough risk assessment. Establish communication channels and contingency plans in case of emergencies. Will you have designated stewards for the protest? Are they liaising with the police? Follow our position on non-violent direct action and read our guide on organising a protest.

Different risks for different people. Not everyone will be exposed to the same level of risk. For example, a disabled person may have access needs in order to move to a safe space quickly. Those not wishing to attend shouldn’t feel like they've “let the side down”. 

Stay peaceful. Our commitment to non-violence is essential. Remain calm and composed, even in the face of provocation or aggression. If faced with conflict or aggression, prioritise de-escalation techniques such as maintaining a calm demeanour, active listening and finding common ground. Avoid engaging in verbal or physical altercations that could compromise your and other peoples’ safety. Participants should feel they can leave, preferably together with others, if they don’t feel safe.

Stay together. Whenever possible, stay within the group and avoid straying into isolated or potentially dangerous areas. Look out for one another and offer support to those who may need it. Get one another’s phone numbers so you can contact anyone who gets lost or separated from the group, or set up a group chat. Agree to a meeting place and time after the counter-protest to ensure everyone knows where to go if you can’t regroup.

Stay vigilant. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Stay alert for any signs of danger, including aggressive behaviour, potential threats or law enforcement activity. Report any concerns to organisers or marshals immediately.

Document responsibly. Be mindful of the privacy and safety of others. Avoid sharing sensitive information or images that could compromise the security of individuals others or the effectiveness of the protest.  

Know your rights. Familiarise yourself with your rights as a protester, including the right to free speech and assembly. Stay informed about local laws such as Section 35 Dispersal Orders, as well as any potential legal risks or consequences. 

Meaningful allyship means doing so without expecting this support will be reciprocated. This is about forging bonds of solidarity with communities who are most targeted by hateful and harmful rhetoric, behaviours and action.

Listen to how others would like you to support them. What’s genuinely going to make a difference? It might not be big public gestures (that get you more followers on social media), but behind-the-scenes stuff that no-one knows you’re doing, like sharing information or lending kit for actions. Try to avoid "performative allyship", which includes tokenistic gestures that do little to really support a cause. For example, this could be "liking" social media posts online when a particular issue is receiving a lot of attention.

Learn more about allyship:

Reframe the debate

While engaging directly with people promoting anti-justice and anti-climate action views is unlikely to be helpful, it’s essential that we reframe the debate. Some people who have been exposed to disinformation and misinformation may be unsure what to think or believe. Reframing the debate can be done off and online. It’s vital to combat disinformation and misinformation. You can use the tactics of “prebunking” and “debunking” to reframe the debate.

Prebunking involves giving warnings about common climate mis/disinformation narratives spread by politically motivated groups. It helps people to identify falsehoods. You can do this through posts on your own social media channels, in your newsletters and at events and stalls that you run. Prebunking often works best when combined with humour or the use of metaphor.

Debunking is the practice of clearly refuting the mis/disinformation after people have encountered it. Follow this 4-step process by Lewandowsky and Cook to debunk effectively:

  1. Lead with the fact.
  2. Warn about the myth. Mention the myth once only, so you don’t reinforce it.
  3. Explain how the myth misleads.
  4. Finish by reinforcing the fact, multiple times if possible.

 

Consider your communication

Effective communication is a key tool for getting people on side. It’s important to know how to present truthful dialogue to ensure people have reliable information that they can believe and use to make informed decisions.

Use true stories and metaphors. Often the plain cold truth, such as the reality of climate change impacts, can be too hard for people to stomach. Package it up into a true story or a metaphor.

Meet people where they’re at. Misinformation and disinformation are so prevalent that a lot of people may have been persuaded. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care about people and planet. Be prepared to listen. Help them unravel what they’ve heard and to debunk myths.

Lead with values. Speak to people through values, such as freedom, equality and unity with nature. This can help to connect with peoples’ unconscious and what’s of most value to them.

Use the “What’s the cupcake?” technique. Stop selling the recipe and sell the actual result instead. For example, instead of talking about low emission zones, talk about the outcome, such as breathable air, healthier people and so on. Always ask yourself what’s the cupcake, not what’s the recipe. 

Remember to humanise. Dehumanising is a common tactic that paves the way for creating groups that oppose other groups. For example, legitimising anti-immigration or anti-trans arguments. We need to stop the them vs us and humanise to create a bigger “we”.

Familiarise yourself with key positions

We’re aware that many of the issues we care about, from transport to air pollution to LGBTQIA+ rights, are commonly picked up and turned into untrue and misleading information. Knowing where you stand can help you tackle this.

Stay in touch

Please get in touch and let us know if your local action group has been impacted by anything we’ve covered in this guide, along with anything you’re proactively doing to counter it. 

By sharing your experience, we can learn what works and what doesn’t, and so we’re better able to advise other groups in similar circumstances. Contact your nations staff or email us at [email protected]

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