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Crowdsourcing the Climate Change Debate
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editorial

Crowdsourcing the Climate Change Debate

Climate change is one of the most contentious topics today. Whether you believe global warming to be a serious man-made problem or a trumped-up theory, you’ve most likely made a case for your opinion to friends and total strangers via social media and in article comments.

In order to “cool the argument” around the climate change, Al Gore and his Climate Reality Project unveiled an ambitious crowdsourced tool called “Reality Drop” last week.

Reality Drop is fairly straightforward to use. Individuals who come to the site see a number of articles, some calling climate change into question, and others supporting the theory. Users are given two options: spread truth or destroy denial. (Given that this is a Gore-backed initiative, it caters to those who believe climate change is happening.)

Reality Drop creates a brief message that users can post in the comments or across their social media networks, either in support of the article (helping to “spread truth”) or against a claim made in it (“destroy denial”). The site uses gamification to encourage participation – for every truth a user “drops,” he or she earns points. Users earn badges and go up in rank when they reach certain point thresholds.

The site has compiled dozens of myths and responses to them, meaning users can address claims made on a wide range of climate-related topics.

The tool is certainly ambitious and has a good intention – spreading information about climate change – but it is a bit awkward in execution. Many users don’t alter or add any of their own opinions to the stock Reality Drop messages, so their comments look more like spam than a genuine attempt to enhance the debate around a contentious topic.

Responding to one Reality Drop comment on a Washington Times article, for example, user “Barry Woods” wrote: "Oh look - A comment from an Al Gore - astroturfer.. (unannounced) did Paul think about that comment for himself, or just cut and paste it from Reality Drop (Al Gore)."

That’s fairly common response, and one that seems warranted.

To further the debate, people need to encourage fresh thinking about climate change, and using the drops to support or deny a claim certainly can be helpful. But simply propagating pre-packaged messages on their own doesn’t add much to the conversation.

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