The bot network that highlights articles on climate change

The bot network that highlights articles on climate change

Two artists created it and it's not just about activism, but a denunciation of how distorted information can have consequences on our lives

(photo: Unsplash) A bot can help fight change climatic? If you want, yes, but above all it can show how our narrative on the subject is distorted. This is what two artist-engineers from New York tried to do, with a project called Synthetic Messenger. It is a network of bots - displayed in the form of hands - that scroll through news on climate change and click on every advertisement they find. The idea came to Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne who launched the initiative in early June. Their bots have so far visited more than 2 million articles on the topic of climate change and clicked 6 million advertisements online. The purpose of all this? Prove that the media industry is driven by ad revenue, and who can control it, controls, in part, what gets posted.

Stories that get the most ad clicks may also become more visible in Google's search algorithms, drawing more attention to the page. When some stories get more views, news organizations are more likely to publish similar articles. This means that advertising mechanisms and algorithms can play an important role in determining what news people see rather than other factors such as the importance of the story itself. More clicks on articles about climate and their banners would theoretically lead to greater coverage of the topic.

“With this project, we wanted to see how media ecology affects our real ecology, such as narrative it affects our material realm, ”Sam Lavigne, artist and assistant in the University of Texas Design Department, told Gizmodo.

The climate narrative has for decades been addressed by the same companies that polluted, while now algorithms often exploit online misinformation. YouTube's algorithm for recommending videos, for example, encouraged viewers to watch videos filled with denial about climate change.

Synthetic Messenger tries to trick the system by showing a bot-fueled interest in stories about the climate. While it could play a small role in amplifying coverage on the topic, there are some complications. First, its algorithm is inaccurate and based on climate-related keywords, and it also clicks on media ads that deny climate change. Its creators have tried to circumvent this problem by blacklisting denier websites such as those owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The goal, however, is rather to draw attention to the structures that determine which climate stories are told and amplified by advertisers and search algorithms. “It's not like we're offering it as a solution to the problem we have. The solution is a meaningful climate policy, an effective policy, ”said Brain. “But we're trying to open a conversation and reveal how our media landscape is currently operating.”

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