• Climate

Farmers’ Protests Weaponized to Spread Climate Misinformation, Report Finds

Posted on:  2024-06-03

Procession of tractors on a street during a farmers protest

June 3, 2024 – Farmers’ protests in several European countries have been weaponized to spread false or misleading claims to discredit political action against climate change and fuel deep-seated distrust towards the European Union, according to a report on climate disinformation related to the protests. The report categorizes and analyzes cross-border misinformation narratives, drawing from fact-checks and debunks from 24 fact-checking organizations across Europe, supplemented by other fact-checking sources.

Titled “A Fertile Ground for Disinformation: From Spreading Climate Change Misinformation to Undermining Climate Action: How the Farmers’ Protests Were Used to Influence Audiences”, the report is a collaborative effort by Newtral (Spain) and by Science Feedback (France) as part of the Climate Facts Europe project coordinated by the European Fact-Checking Standards Network, which aims to detect and track patterns in misinformation ahead of and following the elections. The report’s contributors include Charles Terroille from Science Feedback, and María G. Dionis, Irene Larraz, and Sara Estévez from Newtral

To identify the narratives surrounding the farmers’ protests across Europe, the report analyzed 130 relevant fact-checks from repositories such as EE24, EDMO, and EUvsDisinfo, as well as the 100 most interacted-with Facebook posts containing relevant keywords.  Claims identified were often specifically related to opposing EU climate policies, such as “narratives that falsely accused the EU of promoting lab-grown meat and alleged that governments were deliberately destroying water infrastructure.”

Additionally, the report found that politicians affiliated with the far right were responsible for the majority of social media posts against climate action and the EU in an analysis of most popular posts about the farmers’ protests, based on an analysis of popular social media posts in six languages.

As the 2024 European Parliament Elections approach and new rounds of protests are planned, notably a radical group is scheduled to protest in Brussels on June 4. The report’s findings provide important insights into how misinformation draws focus away from the protestors’ goals and toward misinformation narratives, shaping public opinion.

“These inaccuracies [misinformation regarding land grabs, contaminated Ukrainian wheat, etc] did more than just obscure the actual demands of the protesters; they also amplified existing skepticism and suspicion towards the EU and its climate policies,” the report reads. Report author, Charles Terroille, of Science Feedback said,

“With the elections approaching, new protests will present an even greater opportunity for misinformation to erode the integrity of climate dialogue across Europe. Malicious actors have already successfully tested such narratives; now we must be prepared for their continued use.”

While the initial protests arose from various local issues, the representation of these protests has been distorted into a unified meta-narrative that calls for major revisions or the termination of European climate policies. Ultimately, the European Commission and several member states have retracted some climate and biodiversity measures.

This report is the first of four planned to analyze mis- and disinformation identified in the Climate Facts database as part of the Climate Facts Europe project, which will be released about once a month through September in the lead up to and the weeks following the 2024 European Parliament Elections.

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