Sustainability Climate Change

Green groups ask social media companies to do more to address climate disinformation

Over a dozen environmental groups called on social media CEOs to better address climate change disinformation as part of their compliance with the E.U.’s Digital Services Act.
person uses smartphone.

Story at a glance

  • In May 2022, the European Union passed the Digital Services Act which aims to improve digital spaces for social media users.

  • Now, several environmental groups are calling on Twitter, TikTok and others to put more effort into addressing climate disinformation under the law.

  • They argue the companies owe it to their users and to the planet.

In a letter addressed to the CEOs of Facebook, TikTok, Google and YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest, more than a dozen environmental groups called on the companies to improve transparency in their reporting and moderation of climate disinformation under European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA). 

The DSA was passed in May 2022 and aims to create a safer and more open digital space for social media users. 

“Unfortunately, the spread of climate disinformation undermines governments’ ability to efficiently and effectively respond” to the climate crisis, the letter reads. 

It is signed by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others. 

The environmental groups say social media companies bear a responsibility for their role in amplifying and perpetuating climate disinformation.  

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Research has shown oil companies in particular engage in disinformation, fostering doubt about fossil fuel’s role in climate change. 

One way social media companies can combat disinformation is by increasing transparency to quantify the exact extent of the problem, according to the environmental groups. To do so, they “ask platform leaders to fulfill obligations set forth in the DSA, and to commit to including climate disinformation as a separately-acknowledged category in its reporting and content moderation policies in and outside of the [European Union.]” 

They also call on the platforms to disclose data on content moderation decisions related to the topic, claiming the companies owe it to users and the planet to stop amplifying such content. 

Concerns about the proliferation of online mis- and disinformation grew after the 2016 U.S. presidential election and reached another peak during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While misinformation is classified as any false or inaccurate information, disinformation is misinformation deliberately spread with the intention to mislead. 

This past April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the third part of its sixth assessment report, detailing the risks posed by climate change misinformation.

“Accurate transference of the climate science has been undermined significantly by climate change counter movements, particularly in the US in both legacy and new/social media environments through misinformation, including about the causes and consequences of climate change,” the report reads. 

Conspiracy theories can also spread on social media, and the medium may influence public narratives on climate change. 

“For social media, novel technical tools, such as automated bots, are emerging to shape climate change discussion on major online platforms such as Twitter,” authors added. 

The letter comes as the world prepares to convene in November for the United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP 27.

Previous conferences saw discussion of climate change disinformation, while U.N. Secretary General António Guterres recently called out the dangers posed by social media platforms. 

In a tweet, he stated the platforms are “based on a business model that monetizes anger and negativity are causing untold damage to societies.” 

“Hate speech & misinformation are proliferating. Our data is being bought & sold to influence behavior. We need regulatory frameworks to change this.” 

In recent years, Facebook, Google and YouTube, and Pinterest have all introduced policies aimed at curbing climate mis- and disinformation, albeit to varying degrees of success.