I'm probably not the first person to notice this, but in recent months I've seen quite a few examples of online swarming by people dismissive of AGW, on LinkedIn discussion threads. Dismissives make up 10% or less in the general populations of many countries. However, that 10% can be more disruptive than their small proportion might suggest, especially when they are supported (in some cases financially) by vested interests such as the fossil fuel industry.
"Swarm Intelligence" is not a new thing. See:
Swarm Intelligence can be a good thing, for example where it is exhibited by connected doctors diagnosing a patient's illnesses and best courses of treatment. However, if operated by groups of people with ill intent, or by people who are mistaken in their views, it can be disruptive. It can even damage processes of democracy, as illustrated by examples in the USA during the election in 2016.
In the context of LinkedIn discussions about AGW and its impacts, and actions to address it, swarming by people dismissive of AGW is a worrying phenomenon, because of its potential to delay or derail genuine efforts to provide a sustainable, stable, liveable climate for 8 or 10 billion people.
Swarming is essentially where a large number of people (also perhaps some bots, as someone pointed out) are attracted to the wording in a particular discussion thread and proceed to bombard the discussion with anti-AGW comments, tropes, myths, even abuse of other contributors. In a similar way to a "Gish gallop", the effect is to polarise interchanges and deflect from any genuine debate occurring in the thread. It's difficult to counter, because to do so would require responses to a large number of interjects, and Brandolini's Law is pertinent:
"Brandolini's law, also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle, is an internet adage coined in 2013 that emphasizes the effort of debunking misinformation, in comparison to the relative ease of creating it in the first place. The law states the following:
The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it"
So, what can be done about swarming? Should online platforms intervene to prevent it, or respond to it when it happens? Certainly, more research is needed into the phenomenon, for example to analyse a few questions, such as:
I did see a few examples a year or two ago where it seemed likely that the "seed" for such swarming was a mention of Michael Mann, or Al Gore, or Greta Thunberg. More recent examples have included articles about particular topics, eg Arctic Summer ice, or articles from particular sources, such as the UN, the WMO or the Guardian.
As a hypothesis, anti-AGW swarming might be triggered by topics where the dismissives feel they have some angle of attack, and they can use a form of "safety in numbers" to unleash such an attack in a way that would be difficult and time consuming for an unorganised community of the other 90% to respond to.
In a way, perhaps this is a sign that "the boot is on the other foot". A few decades ago, environmentalism was a fringe 'movement' of 10% or less, deploying disruptive campaigning to get noticed. Now that environmentalism is mainstream and majority, it's the fringe 10% anti-AGW 'movement' that is fighting a rear guard action against the environmentalism and AGW action of the mainstream, in the hope that they can delay the inevitable transition to a climate-stable, sustainable future.
Perhaps there's a lesson here - that environmentalism needs to recognise it has moved on from attacking the mainstream. Now, it's about managing the mainstream and defending it from misguided fringe attacks. That will require a whole new range of techniques and approaches compared with those that were used decades ago to break into the mainstream.
The Planetary CFO - working towards a sustainable World Balance Sheet.