Someone’s trashing your reputation online. Right now they’re calling you a lowlife, a parasite and a murderer. They say you love killing and maiming wildlife, and you care nothing for the human suffering you cause. Worse, they say you enjoy profiting from it. They say you’re as bad as a paedophile. So, what are you going to do? Well?!
No doubt, if you were being targeted as an individual this would hurt like hell. You’d be scared and you may take legal action to try and stop them, although it's unlikely to do much good. I read Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ a few weeks ago, which looks at the prevalence of public shaming on social media and what can be done about it.
It’s with this in mind that I saw a piece of research from US consultancy Tigercomm over the weekend. It looks at how the ten largest US independent power producers user social media to answer claims by anti-wind protestors – which frequently touch on the sorts of accusations made in the opening paragraph – and win local support for schemes.
The research reported that each of the IPPs was facing organised protests by anti-wind campaigners against at least one of their schemes, but just weren’t showing up to the fight.
It said seven of the ten companies had no Facebook pages for their wind projects; that one didn’t have a company Facebook page; and that eight were silent about their schemes on Twitter as well. It’s a huge issue for the wind sector. I don’t think it’s too extreme to argue the wind industry is being publicly shamed and doesn't know how to fight back.
This is making trouble for wind firms. For example, we heard Scottish Power Renewables chief executive Lindsay McQuade say at our Financing Wind Europe conference in London on 1st November that the wind industry was suffering because it lacked “a cohesive voice about the good stuff that we do”, which was harming the businesses in the industry against online attacks from wind’s well-organised online detractors.
In our view, this has had a clear impact on appetite for onshore wind in the UK. The 2018 statistics from RenewableUK last week made grim reading.
Total installations fell 78% year-on-year to 598MW in 2018, which made it the worst year for onshore wind farm completions since 2011. This comes as a result of the damaging policies introduced by the UK government since the Conservatives won the 2015 election.
The UK government has closed the Renewables Obligation scheme to new onshore wind farms and is refusing to address concerns that the planning system is harming the growth of onshore wind. This all follows former prime minister David Cameron’s approach of removing support for “green crap” so he could win Conservative voters in rural areas. However, three-quarters of people in the UK want more onshore wind.
The situation in the UK isn’t just a social media story, of course. Anti-wind protestors have battled the sector using a number of methods. But it clearly demonstrates that governments can determine policies based on the shouting of vocal minorities.
That’s why we see social media as an important battleground for the wind industry.
While there have always been blogs and badly-designed websites run by the people who decry the wind industry, the fact is social media gives them rocket fuel. It means they can reach more people more quickly and spread propaganda more effectively. The only saving grace so far is that Russian troll factories have supported the wind industry as a way to hurt US shale gas and help Russian oil. But for how long?
In the past, it would have been easy for people in the wind industry to write off those anti-wind bloggers as nutters. Ignore them and they’ll go away. Well, I think we know now that ignoring social media is no longer an option. Social media targeting played a key role in winning the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election.
Worse, the people who mobilised so well to help win those elections are exactly the same people who oppose global action on climate change. In order to achieve that, they will take pleasure in decrying, declaiming and destroying the wind industry.
The threat is evolving and collectively, as wind companies and the media, we need to find a way to fight it. It isn’t just about ego. It isn’t just about protecting profits. We know that rising anger online can easily spill into violence in person. The rise of anti-wind activism shows that this needs to be a priority for businesses in the wind sector, which have a duty to protect the people who build and manage their wind farms.
We don’t yet have an answer – but we’d love to work with you all to help find one.
The Irish Government has unveiled changes to its second offshore wind tender that the industry said have created “massive levels of uncertainty”. We look at what this means for the up-to-80GW of offshore wind projects in development in Irish waters.