The word is on the streets that a botnet is clicking on climate change articles to drive sales to create more. Nowadays, engagement determines what topics get the most exposure and Synthetic Messenger wants to give climate change a leg up.
The journalism industry today is quite resource-constrained. They have to think of what topics are ‘click-worthy’ to dedicate resources to those topics. Unfortunately, most of the time these topics are disentangled from their societal importance. Luckily, there are non-profits and subscription outlets doing climate coverage that aren’t driven by economic incentives.
At this point we need to be critical about the issues that we all are facing today. Climate change is an existential threat to society and needs to be addressed, because it’s going to influence the world for generations to come. But, it’s also an abstract and overwhelming subject that people don’t like thinking about it too much. So the resources of the news outlets need to be assigned to other, less important issues as well.
The climate is changing for the worse if we don’t change. So, what if the digital landscape can be influenced in a way that writing about climate change would translate into good money? A project created by a duo of designer-engineers called Synthetic Messenger is a good attempt to make that a reality. Synthetic Messenger is a ‘botnet scheme for climate news’. And it’s exactly what it sounds like: a collection of bots that click on climate news articles and drive traffic to them. Synthetic Messenger was built as a presentation for the STRP Festival, which is an event exploring the role technology plays in the future.
Shaping the algorithm for a greener future
“In an algorithmic media landscape the value of news is determined by engagement statistics,” explains a description of the project. “Media outlets rely on advertising revenue earned through page visits and ad clicks. These engagement signals produce patterns of value that influence what stories and topics get future coverage.”
Synthetic Messenger searches the internet for articles covering climate change, and every day 100 bots visit each article, clicking on every advertisement they can find. The goal is to encourage the media to write more about climate change and prove that it will generate more income. According to Sam Lavigne, one of the creators, Synthetic Messenger has clicked on nearly a million ads in two days. It’s not clear how much revenue that translates to because ad rates vary wildly.
If you want to watch the botnet in action, you can check out the live stream of the Synthetic Messenger on YouTube.
Give earth a hand
While this project is giving you food for thought, the advertisers would not be happy about knowing that they’re paying for fake clicks that aren’t actually going to generate new business. Still, it is interesting to see how money has an influence on such important issues. For example, we all know how corporations used to dump their trash into the river because doing so was cheaper than disposing of it responsibly. The economics sometimes simply don’t align with what’s good for the world. This is the reason why we need to start living consciously to keep the climate change in check. Even though it’s irreversible at this point, it can still be maintained.