International Day of Education: If we can’t counter hate-speech and disinformation, how can we teach about climate change?

January 22, 2024

Author: Django Perks

This year's International Day of Education, 24th January, is devoted to countering hate speech. According to UNESCO, in a recent survey they conducted in 16 countries, 67% of internet users reported that they had encountered online hate speech and 85% were concerned about the “impact and influence of online disinformation on their fellow citizens”. These are two shocking statistics which definitely need to be addressed. With the rise of hate speech and disinformation, the online world is becoming an even more dangerous place which is influencing and impacting the way in which citizens treat one another in the real world.

One of the most important issues of our time is climate change and its effects on human society. And while the internet can be an incredibly helpful tool in educating people about climate change and promoting the causes of climate campaigns like Teach theTeacher, disinformation online can be incredibly harmful to our cause. 

The spreading of disinformation about climate change can cause doubt and confusion for many people about the seriousness of climate change, and it can hinder efforts to educate people and provide them with climate literacy skills. This doubt and confusion could also influence people to become climate skeptics or deniers, and reduce support for efforts being made to mitigate against climate change and the environmental crisis.

Furthermore, if 67% of people in 16 countries have encountered hate speech online, then how can we be certain that the world is prepared to come together, put all differences aside, and work to remove the biggest threat to society? We need to work together if we want to achieve anything. The biggest oil producers in the world need to work with climate change mitigators to reduce oil use. Wealthier countries must work with less wealthy countries to support their move to a net-zero world. Decision-makers need to work with young people to ensure their futures are protected. But the deep divisions that run through society harm these efforts. The barriers we place there result in harming efforts to mitigate climate change.

UNESCO says hate-speech and disinformation is harming society, so what can be done about it? What can you do? We can’t regulate posts on social media to the extent that no disinformation and hate-speech exists as many important establishments, such as the EU, class this as a ‘Big Brother’ attempt that will harm the right to free speech. And they have a point. So we need to educate the public. Ensure they have appropriate education surrounding climate change. And what more appropriate place to start this education than in school. Not just in science and geography at secondary schools, but across all subjects in all levels of education. We need to educate young people to see how climate change intersects with their lives and interests, and prepare them to be able to identify disinformation online surrounding climate change.

And education doesn’t stop in the classroom. You can educate yourself by watching videos, reading articles, listening to podcasts, and reposting important messages on social media. Remember to question your sources. Are they reliable? What’s their background? Do they have an agenda? If you’re unsure, is there a trusted person you can ask to verify them? And pass on your knowledge to your family and friends so they don’t fall victim to disinformation campaigns.

This International Day of Education, let’s remember that a world without hate speech and disinformation is a world where we have a future without barriers.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash