In recent months there has been an increase in confusion, misrepresentation and misunderstanding in news and social media round Covid-19 using same techniques as in tobacco, climate science denialism and anti-vaccination movements that seem to benefit US radical right libertarians’ preferred ideology and politics.
The following articles from The Fifth Estate in Australia and DeSmog Blog in Canada explain the communication techniques well.
David Thorpe | 28 April 2020
OPINION: What’s caused this devastating pandemic that’s so far cost at least 207,000 lives (and it’s hardly begun) and wrecked the global economy? If, like me, you’ve been on the receiving end of a blizzard of bizarre messages claiming to reveal the truth behind the pandemic you might be forgiven for feeling confused, so here’s your handy guide to what isn’t the cause and what is.
Right from the start misinformation was rife: there was no virus; the disease was like flu and wouldn’t cause significant harm; emails offered baseless cures and treatments; and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire about its origin.
It turns out that many who circulated such misinformation have a history of casting doubt on climate science or seeking to debate issues that were already laid to rest within the scientific community, according to DeSmog.org:
“The decades that fossil fuel companies spent funding organisations that sought to undermine the conclusions of credible climate scientists and building up doubt about science itself ultimately created a network of professional science deniers who are now deploying some of the same skills they honed on climate against the public health crisis at the centre of our attention today.”
Some of this misinformation was/is channelled by presidents Trump and Bolsanaro. Others by think tanks, experts (some self-proclaimed), academics, and professional right-wing activists who are also climate change denialists.
After taking apart all of these arguments, DeSmog asserts: “COVID denial should forever discredit climate science deniers”.’
From DeSmog direct:
Repost By Guest • Monday, April 20, 2020 of Amy Westervelt, Drilled News. Originally published by Drilled News.
For a long time, the story went that the tobacco industry cooked up disinformation and then spread it to the fossil fuel guys, the chemical industry, pharma, you name it. But one thing that became incredibly clear when we began digging into PR firms and specific publicists was that this version of history was not quite right; if disinformation strategies were cooked up by any particular industry it was the public relations industry, which put these strategies to work on behalf of fossil fuels, tobacco, chemical manufacturers and more, often all at the same time.
The very first publicist, Ivy Ledbetter Lee, worked on behalf of both Standard Oil and, shortly after, American Tobacco, for example. Daniel Edelman developed astroturf campaigns for both RJ Reynolds tobacco company and the American Petroleum Institute, as did John Hill, who went so far as to have tobacco folks join the API. He also worked with Monsanto, juggling all three clients at the same time. E. Bruce Harrison worked for the chemical guys first, then managed front groups for tobacco and fossil fuels at the same time. You get the drift.
These industries all surely learned from each other at various points in time, but that was mostly because they were working with the same publicists. The history is less that tobacco or oil embraced disinformation first and then passed it on and more that a handful of PR firms and consultants created the disinformation industry, and then put it to work on behalf of whatever industry needed it at any given time.
Today, those same strategies are at work on behalf of those who worry that the response to COVID-19 will undermine capitalism, which is why climate folks keep noting how familiar the whole anti-science component of the rightwing response to the pandemic feels. It’s familiar because the exact same strategies are being deployed, in some cases by the same people. Here are a few key examples:
Disinformation Strategy #1: He who controls the language controls the narrative.
Disinformation Strategy #2: Leverage science illiteracy to create doubt.
Disinformation strategy #3: Astroturfing.
Our hope, of course, is that when people learn to recognize these strategies and know what’s behind them, they might become less effective. Disempowering the disinformation industry is a necessary part of any climate solution.’