Reality Drop - using social media to rapidly respond to climate misinformation

One of the more disturbing elements of misinformation is summarised by a pithy quote from Winston Churchill: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on". Even more perturbing is the fact that Churchill's quote came before the Internet and the age of Twitter, when a lie can take wings in the time it takes to tap 140 characters. However, the Climate Reality Project have just released a new website Reality Drop, that hopes to give truth a leg up.

Here's how it works: Reality Drop rounds up the latest climate news and lets users know where climate misinformation is posted. Then users can drop some reality into the conversation. Doing so earns them points, climbing the leaderboard and earning higher rank. Their video explains the concept succinctly:

This website achieves something I've been wanting to do for years but never found the time to create – a rapid response system to online misinformation. However, Reality Drop's version is much cooler than anything I had in mind so perhaps it was for the best! The website provides several valuable features. It empowers people who are passionate about the climate issue by giving them a way to communicate the realities of climate change. It provides the facts in plain language. The social media aspect with points and ranking make the process interactive and engaging.

The website borrows much content from Skeptical Science's rebuttals and acknowledge so on their About page (in fact, our content is creative commons licensed so all communicators are very welcome to use our rebuttals). If you peruse the climate myths at Reality Drop, you'll see they're sorted into a familiar taxonomy. The rebuttals to a specific myth sometimes include the more detailed SkS rebuttal. But importantly, each page also includes a short, plain English version of each rebuttal which is a valuable resource for people engaging with climate misinformation online.

One potential flaw with the system is that it can lead to the same text being cut and pasted repeatedly into the same comment thread. Having multiple users pasting an identical paragraph to boost their Reality Drop ranking is not a good outcome. Reality Drop tries to mitigate this by encouraging users to express the science in their own words rather than a simple cut and paste. Perhaps they can more strongly encourage personalised debunking and discourage copy and pasting.

Let's hope that users will take personalisation on board for several reasons. Not only does it make the science more compelling if expressed in a unique, personal fashion, nothing strengthens your own understanding of the science like having to explain it to others in your own words.

Posted by John Cook on Friday, 1 March, 2013

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