Almost two years ago, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a rather calm, balanced analysis of problems faced by cacao farmers under global warming.
Cacao plants, from which chocolate is produced, can only grow under quite specific conditions, and under global warming, the cacao-growing regions of West Africa may become less suited to it. (Cacao can also be grown in other parts of the world, like Australia.)
By 2050, the NOAA scientists predicted, cacao might have to be grown at higher altitudes, but, since the transition would take decades, “there is time for adaptation.”
The solutions might lie in breeding cacao to be more drought-tolerant or changing farming methods, the scientists wrote. But ” … if cacao growers are able to plan for the future, that will be good news for your taste buds and our planet.”
And there things sat until this past New Year’s Eve, when Business Insider published a story asserting that “Cacao plants are slated to disappear as early as 2050 thanks to warmer temperatures and dryer weather conditions,” citing the NOAA report. (The story has since been edited, but without saying there had been a correction.)
From there, we got to headlines like “Scientists Say Chocolate May Be Extinct By 2050,” and from there, it was only a short slide further downhill to “Scientists Expect Chocolate to Go Extinct by 2050.”
Here’s a video which awkwardly tries to have it both ways, starting with a social sell of “Scientists Expect Chocolate to Go Extinct by 2050,” sliding in the important word may at 0:06 in the context of saying that the NOAA had said that cacao plants may be extinct be 2050 (they didn’t say this) and then going on to quote the NOAA as saying that “there is time for adaptation.”
Scientists can’t expect “chocolate to go extinct” while also saying that there’s time for adaptation and that everything is likely to be fine, but by the time you’ve figured all that out, you’ve clicked and watched the pre-roll ad.
h/t the Associated Press.
(Also, as Snopes points out, a species isn’t considered truly extinct until no example of it has been seen anywhere on the earth for 50 years. So if all cacao plants vanished as you read this, they wouldn’t be considered extinct until at least 2068.)
In fake news news:
- U.S. president Donald Trump’s “fake news awards” came and went. As Vox points out, it seemed to consist entirely of examples of reporting errors of one sort or another that the media organizations concerned had taken responsibility for, or predictions that didn’t wear well, not fabrications.
- “By attacking the media, calling major news organizations the ‘enemy of the people,’ Trump is pursuing a familiar authoritarian tactic of trying to discredit independent institutions that can hold power in check,” Jeet Heer writes in the New Republic. But the bigger problem, he argues, is the “powerful media bubble” created by Fox News, which may “remain intact long after Trump leaves the stage, priming its viewers for whichever authoritarian figures emerge in his wake.”
- There has been much talk of Russia exploiting vulnerabilities in Western democracies, but it’s hard to exploit vulnerabilities that don’t already exist, academic Henry Farrell writes in Foreign Policy. “A loose collective of Russians, with incredibly meager resources, have been working together in a disorganized way to probe American democracy for weaknesses … they have wanted to create chaos and paranoia — and they have succeeded in stirring confusion only because there were so many weaknesses for them to exploit in the first place.” Thoughtful long read, worth your time.
- In a parallel story on the other side of the Atlantic, Facebook is under pressure to reveal more about Russian use of the platform during the Brexit debate in 2016.
- This is very funny. (You’ll just have to click.)
- A U.S. Senate hearing heard testimony this week predicting that Americans could be radicalized toward violent action through social media manipulation, but not necessarily according to the ideologies of the people doing the manipulating. “The greatest concern moving forward might likely be a foreign intelligence service, posing as Americans on social media, infiltrating one or both political extremes in the U.S. and then recruiting unwitting Americans to undertake violence against a target of the foreign power’s choosing,” terrorism expert Clint Watts predicted.
- What if you could correct a tweet that turned out to have bad information, rather than have a binary choice between deleting it (no transparency, and comments are lost) or leaving it up (continuing the misinformation)?
- @DFRLab looks at how a fake news story in South Africa caused instability in the value of the rand, that country’s currency. Doubtless, someone made some money, but, @DFRLab says, ” … The brief impact it had on the currency markets was almost certainly unintended: that … appears to be an example of the collateral damage which fake news can cause.”
- In theory, this is a golden age of free speech, so why does it feel so dystopian? “In the 21st century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure,” Zeynep Tufekci writes in Wired. “It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute attention. And right now, the flow of the world’s attention is structured, to a vast and overwhelming degree, by just a few digital platforms.” Thoughtful long read, worth your time. (Tufekci is always interesting.)
- Facebook tests changes to its news feed in “guinea pig” countries: Bolivia, Slovakia, Guatemala. It can be hard enough to run an independent news organization in countries where civil society is thinly rooted, the New York Times reports, but experiments of this kind leave them blindsided. (In Slovakia, it seemed to mean more traffic for fabricated news sites.)
- Analysis is still coming in of Facebook’s changes to its news feed. “Facebook’s relationship to news has always been rocky,” Charlie Warzel argues in BuzzFeed. “News, which can be unpleasant and upsetting and controversial, has always been at odds with Facebook’s goal. People don’t “like” bad news and sharing controversial opinions can result in negative user experiences or, worse, unfriending.”
- Sweden is edgy about Russian attempts to influence its presidential election, scheduled for September, and is setting up a government agency to track and counteract it.
- Buzzfeed talks to teenagers who say they’re making thousands of dollars a month by selling retweets in bulk.
- And YouTube, stung by reporting about its darker corners, plans an “intelligence desk” to find out about abusive or disturbing content on its platform before the media does.