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When you hear about bots in the news, it’s usually something bad. Bots, bits of software designed to perform routine tasks for their human creators, are often associated with scam calls, fake social media accounts, or spreading disinformation, even though most are relatively benign, like chatbots.

But there’s a new kind of bot out there, and it’s trying to raise the alarm about the climate crisis, one click at a time. Two New York City-based artist-engineers started a project called Synthetic Messenger, a botnet (short for “robot network”) that visits articles about the overheating planet and increases their visibility by clicking every single ad on the page. The thinking behind it is that all these clicks (called “engagement” in industry-speak) send revenue to news outlets, encouraging more climate coverage. Over the course of a week and a half earlier this month, the bots visited 2 million climate articles and clicked on 6 million ads.

Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, the duo behind the project, say they’re trying to draw attention to how online algorithms are altering perceptions of the climate crisis — and how the news cycle influences the carbon cycle.

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