By G. Gans
Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio are two widely known actors who double as activists. No one doubts their activist ideals because of their positions in the film industry, and no one doubts their acting abilities because of their activism. One part of their work does not necessarily influence or discredit another part of it. Most people understand that one can do multiple things with one’s life. However, some have taken a different approach when it comes to 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
In September of 2019, Thunberg took the global stage on environmental issues. She quickly gained Americans’ attention, and has since been berated across all forms of media; Facebook users, politicians, Twitter users and many others have attacked her appearance and her activism. One of the most popular and absurd claims was that because Thunberg has an IMDB profile she is, in fact, not a Swedish activist but rather an Australian actress, being paid to pose as an “activist.” One man on Facebook called the 16-year-old a fraud and an actress impersonating a crying child activist. Others on Twitter have claimed that she is a twelve-year-old Australian crisis actor, Estella Renee.
Snopes, a reliable fact-checking website, clarified that while Greta Thunberg does have an IMDB page which lists her as an actress, she is indeed a real activist. Snopes also proved that she is not Estella Renee. If anything, Thunberg’s IMDB profile only further disproves the claim that she is “posing” as an activist. Her credits listed on the website consist mostly of programs that she has taken part in by discussing climate change, including news programs and documentaries. She is not playing a role in these, but rather appearing in them as herself.
Climate change deniers are so willing to accept the misinformation about Thunberg as true because of their preconceived notion that climate change is leftist propaganda. President Donald Trump has even gone so far as to call climate change a hoax invented by China. When someone like Thunberg comes to the attention of the public, it’s easier to dismiss her as “fake news” instead of accepting the harsh truth that she speaks of. Therefore, it’s not so surprising that climate deniers would happily accept the idea that Greta Thunberg is a hoax.
The idea of people dismissing ideas that they don’t agree with is definitely not unheard of, but it is increasingly harmful to the social and political climate of contemporary America. As data from the Pew Research Center demonstrates, American politics in 2019 has become increasingly polarized, with Republicans and Democrats more ideologically separated than in any time in recent memory. Issues like climate change, which the left sees (generally) as scientific fact and which the right sees (very generally) as a hoax, further separate the parties.
In a 2013 article, psychologists Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer, and Gilles E. Gignac described their analysis on the relationship between belief in conspiracy theories and rejection of science. They found a correlation between the two. The study examines how the disbelief of many scientific breakthroughs, including the moon landing, the link between cigarettes and lung cancer, and others, can be an indicator of one’s belief in conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theory that Thunberg is an actress is another way of rejecting science. This gross mistrust in science poses a threat to the health of American society. It affects politics and policy in a country that is already significantly divided on such issues and will have lasting effects for generations to come. This abandonment of science within certain groups is a disconcerting pattern.
The troubling concept of “crisis actors,” supposedly trained to deceive the public during emergencies by posing as victims, may also help us to understand this hoax concerning Thunberg. The term has been applied most popularly to the students who advocated for gun control after the Parkland school shooting. This distasteful representation of what was really a show of passionate activism from students is insensitive and disrespectful. The accusers dismiss the suffering of the individuals to promote a self-serving agenda. In doing so, they also encourage Americans’ cynicism regarding news and media. This only escalates into greater political polarization.
Greta Thunberg is an activist, not an actress. Intrigued by the absurd nature of such claims, people widely shared this information. Such falsehoods threaten to further polarize the country and therefore delay the implementation of climate change policy. But addressing climate change cannot wait. Climate change and its activists, despite the fake news surrounding them, are real, and they are here to stay.