Given that one of communication’s major functions is persuading others to perform, or not perform, actions (follow instructions etc), then communication, and (dis)information, is constantly ‘political’.
If an organisation can persuade people not to engage in climate action through misinformation or confusion, then they may benefit from that lack of action. For example, if you look at what oil companies have done they:
- 1) Knew about climate change from their own research as early as the 1950s and 70s and later research by themselves and others simply confirmed what they already knew.
- 2) Underplayed, or ignored that research in favour of increasing their business and profit.
- 3) Cast doubt on the data, and the knowledge that CO2 emissions created climate change.
- 4) Actively tried to inhibit actions and agreements at COP meetings.
- 5) Initiated supposed climate schemes which increased business, profit and emissions with the hope that emissions could be reduced in the future rather than now – Carbon Capture and Storage for example
- 6) Set up networks of think-tanks whose primary purpose was to promote denial and delay which was not completely associated with the fossil fuel companies, such as the Atlas Network etc.
- 7) They currently spend more on new exploration and prospecting, than on emissions reduction.
- 8) Even if we can think they are doing something about climate change now, they delayed action for at least between 30 or 40 years, increasing emissions in that period and encouraging lock-in to fossil fuels. This makes any transition much harder. But it did boost their profits and power.
- 9) They are still amongst the richest and most powerful companies on the planet.
They have campaigned to make the situation safe for them and worse for others. Their riches helped them to promote information and communication to persuade others not to act.
For some reason the Right has seemed to be able to make much better use of this persuasive capacity of (dis)information – with climate denial, US election denial, economic denial, smearing oponents and so on. Perhaps they have learnt from corporate techniques. We could tritely say that truth is somehow less important to them, or less important to them than victory. What is relevant is the easy manufacture of distraction, misinformation and the audience selection of particular memes by their appeal. which then get repeated. Repetition is a major way of ‘proving’ (dis)information – “why would people keep saying this if it was not true”. That is, information is not judged by accuracy but by its reinforcement of already existing bias, proclivities and action as motivated by political allegiance to the ‘information group’ – and that political allegiance makes information from their own ‘side’ more acceptable than information from out-groups.
This partly occurs, not just because of the loyalty aspect of groups and building a self identity out of what is acceptable to our own group, but because of another property of human psychology, which is that information (as with most processes, such as technology, politics, animals or ecologies) can easily become symbolic. This is covered in the next post.