“When is a bot a person?,” my colleague Kirsten asked after I learned that Polestar’s climate bot is more human than machine.
Polestar launched its “Truth Bot” on X (formerly Twitter) ahead of COP28, the UN climate conference overseen by an oil executive. The Truth Bot replies to misleading tweets about the climate crisis and electrification, citing research from the IPCC, IEA and Carbon Brief. Unsurprisingly, the account promotes the upsides of electric vehicles. What’d you expect from an EV maker?
Polestar said it made the bot “in light of a deteriorating environment when it comes to climate mis- and disinformation on social media platforms.” It’s not wrong; under Elon Musk, climate denialism is thriving on X in particular. The company is also hampering research on disinformation.
So, it makes sense that someone would try to fight fire with fire — or in this case bot vs. bot. Yet, Polestar’s bot is mostly human as far as we can tell. It automatically identifies tweets around different “topic buckets,” Polestar spokesperson Mike Ofiara told TechCrunch over email. “Humans then work their way through and choose which tweets to reply to, and select the appropriate response.”
This strategy is probably for the best. We’ve heard for years about the damage automated posts can do. A 2021 study published in Climate Policy, for example, suggested bots were responsible for about a quarter of climate denial tweets. Of course, even if Polestar’s bot was totally automated, I don’t think it would rant inanely about the “Green Climate Cult.” Still, good intensions don’t guarantee accuracy.
Researchers have caught AI tools like ChatGPT serving up climate falsehoods. Such tools can also be misused intentionally to quickly generate misleading info. It seems unlikely that a human-vetted account with good intentions can compete, volume wise, with fully automated bots on top of actual humans who tweet falsehoods, but there doesn’t seem to be harm in trying.
It’s also important to consider that Polestar is focusing on the advantages of electric cars over gas guzzlers. In comparing the two, the benefits of EVs are clear as far as air quality and carbon emissions go. Yet, so far, Polestar’s account hasn’t mentioned buses or trains. These and other forms of public transit are often ignored, but critical components of transportation decarbonization.