Wildfire Misfire: Misinformation via Twitter causes social hysteria about the Amazon wildfires.

A recent conversation revolving around intentional and accidental misinformation across social media and news platforms has arisen in light of the Amazonian forest fires. The conversation began with a tweet from Cristiano Ronaldo asking for prayers for the burning Amazon Rainforest, claiming it produces “more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and it’s been burning for the past 3 weeks.” Celebrities, ecologists, and Presidents across the G7 (seven largest economic countries in the world) lept at the opportunity to save “the world’s lungs.” While this seems like the enthusiastic response to climate change issues many people were looking for, its result was a hallmark for the quick spreading of misinformation. 

The first important thing to understand when approaching this issue, is the international consensus that the Amazon rainforest forest fires are not a result of climate change, but rather a contributor to it. Ecologists across the globe agree that these fires were deliberately lit. The firestarting was set by agricultural industry actors for the purpose of clearing brush for cattle grazing, crop growing and logging. In fact, the only person insisting the fires should be attributed to a natural phenomenon is the environmental minister of Brazil, Ricardo Salles. 

Ricardo Salles was named minister by the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right conservative notorious for weakening environmental protections and slashing the Brazillian environmental protection agency budget by 95%. Bolsonaro’s attacks on indigenous communities in favor of Brazillian industries were promised during his campaign for presidency, as he praised the U.S.’s efficiency in exterminating the existing natives. 

Bolsonaro has gone out of his way to revoke indigenous land and violate their rights in favor of agricultural lobbyists. To Victor Guillen, Eastern student and Venezuelan native, Bolsonaro’s actions hit close to home: “It would be like if you gentrified national parks. F**k the guy.” 

Growing awareness of the setting of the Amazon forest fires has sparked worldwide interest in saving this international treasure. However, it has also become a platform for online scamming and a spread of misinformation. This situation is particularly alarming as the misinformation spread to the level of world leader action. 

The seven strongest economic powers in the world held an emergency meeting to send funding to Brazil to “put out” the fires. While these funds were initially not accepted by President Bolsonaro, he later used the funds to send Brazilian military into the forest, furthering his anti-indigenous agenda. 

The Amazon rainforest does not need resources or prayers. It needs eff ective diplomacy. It needs pressure from the world’s leaders on Bolsonaro to change his environmental policies and constant attack on the indigenous people. Real change needs to be made and real pressure needs to be put on America’s leaders to reject placing economic gain over environmental and social effect within Brazil and across the world. 

This, however, is very easy to say as a student of Eastern University, four thousand miles away from the injustices happening to the Amazon rainforest. So what can we, as students of Eastern University do to help this international crisis? 

Donate to organizations which enact real change. In particular, The Rainforest Action Network purchases land with donations given and works with local indigenous-led organizations. Pressure local representatives and senators to reject legislation working with President Bolsonaro and which negatively impacts the environment in favor of economics. Eat less beef! This is a really easy way to “vote with your wallet,” in order to show you don’t support agriculture (particularly beef) in Amazonian territories without going vegetarian.

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