The new online challenge: combatting social insurgents

While an enquiry was today clearing climate change scientists of malpractice in the leaked email affair, I was hearing further details of how the sceptics used blogging to promote “Climategate” as a story that undermined public confidence in research … and about the emergence of the social insurgent.

I wrote recently about how climate sceptics network more effectively than environmentalists, reporting work commissioned by Oxfam from the digital mapping agency Prospero. Left Foot Forward reported:

The speed of information flow within the sceptic community, with its rapid publication of sceptical “research”, is far quicker than any scientist or NGO could hope to match – and handily unencumbered by peer review or sign-off processes.This meant that because almost no-one from the climate movement responded to or rebutted the sceptics’ arguments, they ended up owning the story.

Today while at the OxfordJam social entrepreneur event I met Nathan Flowers, of The Social Media Lab, who worked on the analysis. He explained how fast the climate change sceptics were able to operate in spreading news of the email leak, dubbing it Climategate, and getting mainstream coverage through the Daily Telegraph blog written by James Delingpole.

Nathan explained how bloggers like the climate change sceptics are now engaged in the equivalent of guerilla warfare – and calls them social insurgents. The conventional PR tactics of one by one rebuttal are too slow and just add to the online firefight.

Nathan reports my interview on his blog:

In this video I talk about a few solutions that can be explored to tackle social insurgent attacks, one solution could be to fight back with counter-insurgency efforts, essentially looking to form small agile organisations (the fact that large respected organisations cannot do this is simply because, large organisatons do not want to be seen to be bullying adversaries into submission) that can quickly mobilise to deflect the attention and attacks from the social insurgents, however if you attempt to do this you are immediately entering into an arms race where success will be dictated by whether you are faster, more knowledgeable and better equipped than the insurgents.

A strategy with much more chance of succeeding would be to take the ‘moral high ground’ by entering into conflict resolution, where the social insurgents are brought into a neutral space where dialogue can be established in the hope of reaching consensus on key issues.

Here’s the Telegraph’s news report on today’s enquiry report, and James Delingpole under the headline “Climategate scientists should be immediately beatified in preparation for full sainthood by 2011′ says latest official enquiry”

Go on then. Have a guess what the latest official Climategate enquiry - headed by the rigorous, utterly unbiased, totally impartial, and fanatically unpartisan Lord Oxburgh – has decided.

Yes, that’s right. They’re all totally innocent!

“We found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention,” concludes the report, confirming what many of us have long suspected: if only Professor St Phil Jones had had proper media training in how to lie properly, lose data, and delete emails after FOI requests without being caught, none of this unspeakableness would have happened.

I doubt if it’s over yet.

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