Intersections of media influence: Radical conspiracist ‘alt-media’ narratives and the climate crisis in Aotearoa
This article explores a neglected, but important aspect of the misinformation challenge posed by some alternative media platforms in Aotearoa: namely, the spread of denialist or denialist-adjacent discourse on climate change, featuring messaging which aligns with the broad themes of medical misinformation and anti-vaccination propaganda seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. As will demonstrated through a case study of Aotearoa New Zealand’s 2021 ‘Groundswell’ protests, locally-based influencers and ‘alt-media’ platforms have disseminated conspiracist, unscientific narratives on both COVID and global warming to audiences likely to be receptive to these associations. The authors identify some of the tropes and narratives circulated by influencers during the demonstrations as bearing the fingerprints of radical right-wing discourse originating in the USA. The case is made that there is a high degree of cross-pollination of ideas at play within the phenomenon of anti-authority, conspiracist protest movements in Aotearoa, of which ‘Groundswell’ was an instructive example (uniting rural protesters with anti-vaccine demagogues); the discourse is infused with emotionally potent falsehoods and American-style ‘culture wars’ language. While these narratives remain relatively fringe, their toxic messaging may become more influential as more people turn to ‘alt-media’ sources for news. Indeed, the extent to which some of the influencers and language from this movement are edging closer to the outer boundaries of mainstream media and politics may represent an early warning sign for the future trajectory of this phenomenon. Finally, the authors tentatively pose some recommendations for professional media engagement with the growth of 'content that misrepresents critical social challenges.
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