Lori Regattieri is a recent Mozilla Senior Fellow in Trustworthy AI. We spoke with her about mitigating anti-environment propaganda in Brazil
- Environmental advocates are facing new challenges in the fight for climate justice: online propaganda, digital deception, and media manipulation
- As a Mozilla Senior Fellow in Trustworthy AI, Lori Regattieri confronts climate disinformation and the systems that enable it
- Lori uses policy, advocacy, and public education to build bridges between movements, like the climate justice and digital rights movements. She is a veteran activist and communications advisor who holds a PhD in Communication and Culture from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Her thesis: “Algorithmization of life: the debate about the Amazon forest and the forest fires on Twitter in 2020”
Not long ago, climate advocates only had to contend with one type of pollution: the physical variety. Now, there’s a second kind: digital pollution.
In the quest for climate justice, activists like recent Mozilla Senior Fellow in Trustworthy AI Lori Regattieri must confront an astonishing amount of online disinformation. Created by special interests and spread using social media algorithms, this content misleads the public about threats to the natural environment.
In addition to this insidious form of online propaganda, Regattieri is also wrestling with big, new questions, like: What is the carbon footprint of AI?
Regattieri uses a wide variety of tools to raise awareness about — and confront — climate disinformation. Key strategies include building bridges between disparate movements, like people working on responsible AI, open source knowledge, and climate justice. She also helps smaller, local civil society organizations level up their skills.
Regattieri began her tenure as a Senior Mozilla Fellow in March 2022, and ended 18 months later. During that time, the disinformation landscape in Brazil changed dramatically.
Early in Regattieri’s fellowship, most of Brazil was paying attention to a different kind of disinformation: the electoral type. 2022 marked a general election in the country, and much of the population was focused on election integrity. This was essential, Regattieri says — but also shouldn’t have been at the expense of addressing climate disinformation. Further, there is also an overlap between political and climate disinformation: Many environmental activists seeking office (and especially those who are women) are the targets of disinformation campaigns.
“The conversation about environmental and climate disinformation just wasn’t there yet,” Regattieri recalls. “There was a concern, but there wasn't a grounding about what exactly we could do to pressure Big Tech.”
So Regattieri got to work. She began researching and detailing the ways climate disinformation was spreading in Brazil. One major finding was that the problems in Brazil are different from those elsewhere around the world.
“Climate disinformation in Brazil is unique,” Regattieri explains. Globally, much of the climate disinformation that proliferates online is connected to the fossil fuel industry. But in Brazil, it’s more often connected to agribusiness.
“They learned their tactics from disinformation campaigns in the U.S. and Europe,” Regattieri says, but they’re campaigns are also distinct — and require bespoke solutions.
By the end of her fellowship, “a lot had changed,” Regattieri says. The Brazilian Electoral Supreme Court has begun paying attention to and working on the issues and orientations Regattieri labored to bring attention to. “The perception changed a lot,” she explains. “Now there’s recognition of the different disinformation tactics [around climate].”
At the same time, “the digital rights movement started to align more closely with the goals of the environmental justice movement,” Regattieri adds.
We need to put more pressure on Big Tech about the climate agenda
Lori Regattieri, Senior Mozilla Fellow
But there have been setbacks, too. Brazilian legislators have been working on the Brazilian Law on Freedom, Responsibility and Transparency on the Internet to increase transparency into tech platforms, but “the bill was weakened because of lobbying by Big Tech — specifically Google and Meta,” Regattieri says. “It was a moment in which Big Tech ended up showing their full power.”
What’s next? Core to Regattieri’s fellowship was collaboration, whether working with other advocates in Brazil, Bolivia, and Colombia; other movements; and even other Mozilla awardees. She frequently collaborated with other Mozilla fellows and awardees, helping to build a better understanding of the intersection of technology and climate justice through participation in the Green Screen Coalition and supporting the design of the most recent Mozilla Technology Fund call on AI and Environmental Justice. Now, Regattieri is continuing her movement building to continue holding Big Tech accountable.
“We need to put more pressure on Big Tech about the climate agenda,” Regattieri says. “Right now, they’ve done very little — the content moderation they do is not enough.” This is especially true in non-English speaking regions like Brazil.
“Big Tech still deals with Global Majority countries with dismissiveness,” Regattieri adds. “They make it look like they’re putting in effort, but in terms of the intervention they are doing, it’s never enough. Big Tech makes promises, but they don’t go any farther.”
Regattieri is also preparing for the COP30 climate summit, planned for 2025 in Brazil’s Belém do Pará. “I’m thinking, ‘How can Brazil lead on just and sustainable technologies?’” she says.