Facebook's new climate change misinformation effort falls short, advocates say

Facebook's new climate change misinformation effort falls short, advocates say
© Getty Images

Facebook’s new effort to combat climate change misinformation falls short of addressing the root of the false claims spreading on the social media platform, an advocacy group said. 

Facebook announced a plan Thursday including a $1 million investment in a new climate grant program to support organizations working to combat climate misinformation, but the group Friends of the Earth said the effort misses the point and will fail to expel the vast majority of disinformation. 

“Facebook’s actions are far too little, far too late,” Michael Khoo, Friends of the Earth co-chair of the Climate Disinformation Coalition, said in a statement. “Facebook knows the super-spreaders of climate disinformation and should put an end to their repetitive lies. We cannot solve social media disinformation by playing an endless game of whack-a-mole with known liars.” 

ADVERTISEMENT

Friends of the Earth released a report with an analysis of disinformation following the February 2021 storm-related blackouts in Texas. The analysis looked at disinformation spreading debunked myths that renewable energy was to blame for outages. 

The analysis found less than 1 percent of high-performing Facebook posts spreading the debunked claims about the blackout contained a fact-checking label. The 10 highest-performing posts blaming renewable energy, garnering a total 673,300 total interactions, lacked a fact-check label, according to the analysis. 

“As mainstream news outlets strengthen their approach to disinformation, Facebook is becoming the last bastion of climate denial. This doesn’t need to be the case. Solving climate change is difficult but solving climate disinformation is simple: turn it off,” Khoo said. 

The report recommends Facebook and other platforms, including Twitter, Google and YouTube, take greater efforts to combat the posts through policies that lead to removing the content. For example, they called for platforms to disallow climate change disinformation in organic and paid posts and groups, as well as create a two-strike policy for repeat spreaders of disinformation and remove viral functions as a first step. 

Facebook’s new effort does not ban climate change misinformation from the site, or impose additional plans to remove the posts. 

Rather, the social media giant is pledging to invest in efforts to boost credible information about climate change. 

Facebook will expand its Climate Science Center to include new features, such as quizzes, to “better inform and engage our community on climate change,” the company said in a blog post. 

In addition to the $1 million investment in a new climate change program, the company is also launching a video series to highlight young climate advocates on Facebook and Instagram during the upcoming Climate Week.

Friends of the Earth likened the strategy of countering misinformation by boosting credible sources to “bringing a knife to a gunfight.” 

“We will not protect public speech by treating platform-based disinformation like a game of whack-a-mole,” the report states. 

The think tank Influence Map also slammed Facebook’s efforts because it does not address ads from the oil and gas industry promoting the continued use of fossil fuels. Influence Map’s program manager Faye Holder said the ads “undermine science-based climate action.” 

Influence Map research released last month found 25 oil and gas sector organizations in the U.S. spent $9.6 million on such ads in 2020, and those ads were viewed more than 431 million times. 

Since the release of the group’s research, ExxonMobil has spent a further $1.2 million, according to Influence map. 

“The company often talks about its commitment to tackling climate change, but it continues to allow its platform to be used by the fossil fuel sector to undermine science-based climate action,” Holder said in a statement.