Story at a glance
- New research suggests that Facebook is soft on ads promoting drilling for oil and natural gas.
- Study authors say that many of the millions of oil companies’ ads contain misinformation about emissions.
- Facebook has been running on renewable energy since 2020 and pledged to reach carbon neutrality in its business operations.
Amid the millions of advertisements running on Facebook, a new report singles out ads paid for by leading oil and gas companies as being misleading regarding their sustainability initiatives and policies, and it faults the social media giant for continuing to host their ads.
Compiled by the think tank InfluenceMap, which studies corporate climate policies, the report analyzes the messaging of ads issued by oil and gas companies on Facebook to gauge how accurately they reflect the companies’ actual policies surrounding climate change mitigation
Looking at more than 25,000 separate ads from 25 leading oil and gas organizations, researchers say that bulk of the marketing content contained misleading information related to the companies’ efforts to switch to clean energy, job creation, and the benefits of using oil and gas as fuel.
Researchers at InfluenceMap argue that most of the narratives put forth within the ads aren’t accurate, primarily with the suggestion that oil and gas companies can continue operations while reducing emissions.
They also point out that the company was paid more than $9.5 million from oil and gas giants and claims the tech company hasn’t been consistently applying its fact-checking advertising policies to ads focused on climate change.
“Despite Facebook’s public support for climate action, it continues to allow its platform to be used to spread fossil fuel propaganda,” said Bill Weihl, founder of ClimateVoice and the former Director of Sustainability at Facebook. “Not only is Facebook inadequately enforcing its existing advertising policies, it’s clear that these policies are not keeping pace with the critical need for urgent climate action.”
The results from the research also retraced when advertisements from oil and gas companies were deployed at larger volumes on Facebook. Several upticks in ads circulating on the platform were observed, some coinciding with critical political moments, such as the days leading up to the U.S. 2020 election and when then-candidate Joe Biden released his $2 trillion climate plan.
These ads were also marketed to users in select states. Oil-rich regions, such as Texas, Alaska and California where drilling for oil and natural gas stands to be contested, received the bulk of the advertising campaigns and had the most impressions, or interactions.
Users in politically crucial states also saw large quantities of oil company ads, with Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio recording millions of impressions with these ads. These states are often battleground states and are liable to swing between Democrat and Republican during an election cycle.
The major companies funding these ads include ExxonMobil, who spent more than $5 million on advertisements in 2020, the American Petroleum Institute, and OneAlaska. In response to the ad research, a company spokesperson told The Hill that Facebook is transparent about the ads it runs via its Ad Library.
“We reject ads when one of our independent fact-checking partners rates them as false or misleading and take action against Pages, Groups, accounts, and websites that repeatedly share content rated as false,” the spokesperson said.
Some of these ads face rejection when they can’t meet the criteria Facebook requires, namely political authorization and other associated restrictions for who can see the content.
Researchers compiled this data to illustrate how Facebook’s business practices stand diametrically opposed to its recent sustainability initiatives.
In late 2020, the company pledged to become carbon neutral and reach net zero emissions across its business operations. Even further back in 2011, Facebook pledged to run on reusable energy to conduct its operations, a goal they reported reaching last year.
The authors recommend that their research be used to hold social media conglomerates accountable on the content used in ads on their platforms.
A wave of major corporations have made significant sustainability pledges as people push for large business operations to become more climate-friendly. Companies like Amazon, BlackRock and JPMorgan have all made some form of commitment to reduce their emissions.
President Biden is working on overhauling U.S. infrastructure with his $1 trillion dollar bill, which would allocate resources to electric vehicle support and public transit, along with expanding renewable energy systems.