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Facebook labeled half of climate denial posts from ‘Toxic Ten’: report

Associated Press/Matt Rourke

Facebook labeled half of the climate change denial posts linked to content by the leading publishers of such disinformation, according to a Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) report published Wednesday. 

The CCDH is among advocacy groups pushing Facebook, now under the parent company name Meta, to do more to combat misinformation than applying the labels, which advocates say have not been proven to be an effective tool for mitigation. 

But Facebook’s failure to follow through on its pledge to even take “minimal” action by applying the labels underscores their reluctance to combat climate denial, said CCDH chief executive officer Imran Ahmed

“They know that it’s a problem. They know that that misinformation is being spread on their platform. That’s why they’ve announced that they will do some things,” Ahmed said, referring to the labels. 

“So they’ve already acknowledged that harm’s been created on their platform, but they’re still failing to actually carry through on their promises,” he added.  

The new report builds on CCDH’s research into the spread of climate disinformation, adding to a report released in November identifying ten publishers, the “Toxic Ten,” as the root of 69 percent of digital climate change denial. 

The report released Wednesday assessed posts related to 184 articles featuring claims about climate change from Toxic Ten publishers. Researchers used Meta’s CrowdTangle analysts tool to identify the top public Facebook posts for each article in the sample. 

Together, the posts in the sample received over 1 million likes, comments and shares on Facebook, the report found. 

Of the most popular posts associated with articles in the sample, 50.5 percent carried no information label, while 49.5 percent did. The 93 articles without labels had 541,877 Facebook interactions, according to the report. 

“Even with this less effective means of limiting the spread of misinformation. They’re only doing it in half of all instances,” Ahmed said. 

Callum Hood, head of research at CCDH, said there weren’t any clear patterns that emerged to suggest why Facebook chose to label or not label the posts. 

One post CCDH identified as not having a label was a Breitbart article claiming global warming is not real and is a “hoax,” according to the report. 

A common theme among the denial identified by CCDH among posts without labels is content about climate “alarmism,” describing climate science as “hysteria,” Hood said. 

For example, one article not given a label was posted by NewsBusters and included a headline that said CNN was pushing “alarmist climate propaganda.” Another post cited in the report was from Ben Shapiro and linked to an op-ed authored by RealClearFoundation’s wire service called “The Left is Spreading Global Warming Alarmism On The Right.” 

 

Facebook spokesperson Kevin McAlister said that during the time frame of the report the platform hadn’t “completely rolled out our labeling program, which very likely impacted the results.”

All of the articles referenced in the study had been published since May 18, 2021, according to CCDH. 

At that time, Facebook had said it would be adding labels on “some posts” about climate change but the company declined to offer specifics about what warranted labels versus which did not. 

The company also pushed back on CCDH’s “Toxic Ten” report, arguing it used a “flawed methodology.”

The report was published a week after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen reportedly filed two new complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) arguing Facebook misled investors about its efforts to mitigate the spread of misinformation about both climate changes and COVID-19. 

In a statement responding to the complaints last week, Meta spokesperson Drew Pusateri touted the platform’s use of labels and directing users to its centers with authoritative information on both topics.

Tags climate misinformation Facebook META

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