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Facebook’s new commitments on climate misinformation miss the point, activists say

Facebook’s new commitments on climate misinformation miss the point, activists say


The platform is still rife with misleading posts and fossil fuel advertising

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Climate Change Activists Continue Their Protest
An Extinction Rebellion environmental activist mother group protest outside Google UK HQ demanding they stop climate deniers profiting on their platforms on October 16, 2019 in London, England. 
Photo by Ollie Millington/Getty Images

Lies about climate change still fester unchecked on Facebook, environmentalists say, even as the social media giant announces new climate initiatives. The company today said that it’s beefing up a “Climate Science Center” with more facts, quizzes, and videos. It’s also investing $1 million in grants to groups “working to combat climate misinformation.”

Those efforts still don’t get at the root of the problem. Trying to funnel Facebook users to a “science center” doesn’t actually stop climate deniers from posting false information that can spread like wildfire on the platform. And Facebook continues to accept advertising dollars from oil and gas companies.

Those efforts still don’t get at the root of the problem.

“Facebook knows the super-spreaders of climate disinformation and should put an end to their repetitive lies,” Michael Khoo, co-chair of the climate disinformation coalition at the nonprofit Friends of the Earth (FOE), said in a statement today. “Facebook and other tech platforms must take far stronger action to limit the super-spreaders, and not put the burden on ordinary users.”

One of the most recent bouts with misinformation on climate solutions like renewable energy took place during a deadly blackout and sudden cold snap in Texas last February. Posts spread on social media that falsely claimed frozen wind turbines were primarily at fault for the outages. In reality, the severe cold affected just about every energy source, not just renewables, and frozen natural gas infrastructure played a huge role in the blackouts.

In a new report released today, Friends of the Earth analyzed the top 10 “highest-performing” Facebook posts falsely blaming wind turbines for blackouts. Less than 1 percent of interactions — including likes, comments, and shares — were with posts that carried a fact-check label, which Facebook places on posts that have been reviewed by the platform’s third-party fact-checkers. FOE argues that without fact-checking, misinformation can spread both within and outside of the platform to mainstream media and politics.

Facebook defends its handling of misinformation in the wake of the winter storm. “Many of the examples in the report cited as not having labels are simply positions that the [FOE] disagrees with,” Facebook said in an emailed statement to The Verge.

The posts FOE analyzed include several from Fox News that quote Tucker Carlson saying things like, “Green energy inevitably means blackouts,” and “global warming is no longer a pressing concern in Houston. We’ve solved that problem. The bad news is they don’t have electricity. The windmills froze so the power grid failed.” Neither statement is true.

Friends of the Earth also looked into the top 10 performing posts that shared a viral image of a drone defrosting a wind turbine. The image was actually taken years earlier and had nothing to do with the power outages. Ninety percent of those posts did carry Facebook’s fact-checking label, according to the FOE report.

Misinformation about renewable energy online can have real-world consequences

Misinformation about renewable energy online can have real-world consequences. Following the disaster, lawmakers in Texas lambasted wind power and cited the outages while pushing bills to boost natural gas and place new fees on renewables.

Facebook also got flak today for the money it makes from oil and gas advertising. “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,” Faye Holder, a program manager at climate and energy think tank InfluenceMap said in a statement today.

Twenty-five companies from the oil and gas sector spent nearly $9.6 million on Facebook ads last year, InfluenceMap found in a report it released last month. Those ads had been viewed over 431 million times. Facebook rejects ads that its independent fact-checkers rate as false or misleading, the company said in its emailed statement.

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