Sometimes it might be best to just let the people speak for themselves.
How do you fact check a blog like Climate Audit? The site details what the authors see as inconsistencies and exaggerations in the work of climate scientists, so they see themselves as the fact checkers. Yet in many cases, the site simply reprints private e-mails and quotes from climate scientists in which they are revealing the messiness of the scientific process, and suggests that this messiness is proof that the scientists are wrong about their conclusions on climate change.
For example, in one post, a climate auditor posts an e-mail from a scientist and writes: “Not sure what this email is about but it doesn’t sound very good.”
The site is full of details, charts, and graphs. It feels like proof of something. And the site details every time a climate auditor has their FOIA requests declined or redacted, suggesting that such secrecy is in itself proof that the scientists are wrong and hare hiding their true findings.
One thing is very clear: the scientists and the climate auditors don’t understand each other. There’s a culture clash full of misunderstandings.
Facing Off: Why Fact Fight Club
I can’t think of a way to create a single piece of media that can refute the ‘climate audit’ site. But here’s an idea for a service that could make a small contribution.
What if we set up a Web site that could match up strangers who hold opposing views and allow them to participate in a live video chat with each other. The participants would get instructions on how to structure their conversation. They’d be asked to spend the first 5 to 10 minutes answering an ice-breaker question and getting to know each other. Then they’d each give a short statement on why they either agree or disagree with global warming. Then they’d have a chance to give rebuttals. Let’s call it Fact Fight Club, though that name is intentionally provocative and probably not the best name for the actual service.
I built a very simple working version of Fact Fight Club using Blogger:
The site relies on a service developed here at the Media Lab called Unhangouts, which makes it easy to set up Google Hangout video chats.
I tried to find two people to try this, but I wasn’t able to pull that off by the deadline. The concern, of course, is that the two people would take the “fight” in the name to heart and that the experience could feel more like a live-action flame war than a productive meeting of polite citizens. But I think there’s something to this idea of connecting people to those who disagree with them — to pop the “filter bubble” — and to do so in video so that hopefully people might be more civil because they can see the person they’re talking to.
I’ll be curious to see what people think of this idea.
For the past eight years, the coffee mega-giant’s reputation has been smeared in the Middle East. Leftists activists across the region have claimed that the organisation is a “Zionist entity” which gives direct support to the Israeli government – and even to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Pro-palestinian groups have called for a boycott of the group and staged protests outside Starbucks franchises in Beirut, London and in the Palestinian Territories. Although the global firm has tried to refute the claim many times, its reputation remains tarnished as many potential clients, in the Middle East and abroad, refuse to go anywhere near the Seattle-bred giant.
What and when: Pro-Zionist rhetoric and funding
The conspiracy theory exploded in July,11, 2006 when a fake letter, allegedly written by Shultz, the CEO and founder of Starbucks, confirmed the company’s active support to the state of Israel. The satirical letter was originally written by Andrew Winkler, the editor of a anti-Zionist website called ZioPedia. According to NOWLebanon, the statement was read by over 100,000 users on the site alone.
Starbucks-boycotters claim that Shultz himself, a businessman “born to a Jewish family”, has made anti-zionist remarks at Jewish congregations such as the Temple De Hirsh SInai in Seattle in the past. They also point out to the fact that he received ‘Israel’s 50th Anniversary Tribute Award’ from the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah in 1998 for “playing a key role in promoting a close alliance between the US and Israel“, according to his Wikipedia page. Activists also argue that “Schultz made donations to the charity the Jewish National Fund, and that this used to be posted on [Starbucks'] website”. As such, boycott campaigns claim that the organisation financially supports the State of Israel, and has deliberately deleted that information from its website, but with not other evidence.
TRUE or FALSE?
The verdict is…. FALSE.
With some thorough-fact checking, it appears that the Starbucks’s CEO might have pro-Israeli tendencies but this does not imply that his company financially supports Israel, or that he personally benefits from the company revenues. The company is indeed publicly traded and as such all of its financial statements are publicly available.
Rather than publish statements which reiterate and refute the conspiracy theory, Starbucks should pursue a more pro-active strategy by emphasizing on its positive role in the Middle East. Indeed, the company has in the past tried to distance itself from the CEO’s actions by releasing the following statement (which is for some reason currently unavailable on its website):
The coffee giant has also released anti-libel statements regarding its activities in the Middle East in 2010, in which it repeats and refutes more than 3 times (!) the Zionist claim.
Effective PR strategy for the MENA region
The company should reinforce the impartial and maybe positive role it plays in the MENA region by highlighting the following points:
- Buff up its MENA page by highlighting the revenue, employment, and growth it is creating in the Arab world. Starbucks needs to make the argument that its franchises generate growth for local markets, and do not completely go back to the conglomerate.
- Capitalize on the fact that Starbucks has actually shut down all its operations in Israel/Palestine since 2003 and that all its Middle East branches are operated by a Kuwaiti-based group called Alshaya. While the company publishes this on its website (“We are also committed to hiring locally, providing jobs to thousands of local citizens in the countries where we operate.”), it should do a better job at outlining its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy in the MENA region.
- Finally, the company should be aware of the complexities and the context it operates in and distance itself from Shultz if the CEO persist in making politically incorrect -or sensitive- comments. The company should, and can, publicly release its financial statements to demonstrate its impartial nature and hold critics at bay.
Update: Only upon posting this exercise did I think to Google for stories and find the above CBS “news piece.”
The following is an exercise in marking up a EurekAlert press release with three different fact-checking schemes. Bolded sentences denote hyperbole. Yellow highlighting is linked to a passage in the scientific study. Grey highlighting refers to citations of previous studies. I was later turned on to the Chrome plugin Churnalism which does something similar–though much spiffier–by comparing news articles to press releases. Here’s the Longo et al. study.
Click below to see the “web app” in action.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Kenya imposed a ban on genetically modified foods. Many theories have been advanced as to the effects of GMO foods some valid while others not. What was the main reason for Kenya to impose the ban? A research done by Seralini was indeed the impetus that provided the necessary reason behind the ban. Kenya as we speak is the only country to have a ban in the entire world. Russia also put out a ban after the paper that was published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal that GM crops routinely grown by farmers and eaten by consumers cause tumours in rats. It took Russia three weeks to lift the ban. Kenya insists on proper procedures around GMOs and bio safety regulations. This on the contrary has added wood to the fire with a superstitious populace adding sugar and spice into the debate. What are some of the myths being advocated? Historically, new products that were disruptive were stigmatized. Are we seeing the same with GMO foods? The debate in the early 19th century around coffee, the introduction of tractors on farms and more recently the debate around margarine and butter.
I looked into an e-book called “100 Ways to Please a Romanian Woman”.
The resulting work is here. (Or click on the image below).
Notes: What I was most interested was the second part of our assignment: the presentation of the information once verified/checked/contextualized, and if this can make a difference in retention or changing one’s mind. I was also interested in whether one can turn a seemingly trivial topic (that is also heavily stereotyped in this case) into an opportunity to transmit information or deliver context.
I decided to use Zeega because it plays seamlessly with animated GIFs, which are a staple of our current meme culture, and tried to structure the resulting piece as a listicle, a popular form of content delivery.
As a journalist, I couldn’t help thinking that if I was doing this for publication in a different format (a more “serious” one for lack of a better word), I would have done further checking and contextualizing of the sources (adding caveat to caveat), arguably to a point where it might have bogged down the experience. One potential solution is to provide jumping off points from each of these topics – alcohol consumption, natality figure, religious practices etc – into well-produced and complex platforms where the public can learn more from, while also interacting with the data. (I’m thinking of the work the New York Times has done on upward mobility.)