Facebook climate disinformation called out by climate groups

As Chan-Zuckerberg Institute makes climate grant announcements and international COP26 negotiations loom, groups pressure social media companies to take action

WASHINGTON Ahead of November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the Climate Disinformation Coalition is calling on all big tech platforms to take concrete, transparent steps to eliminate climate disinformation. While the broader corporate world is making bold climate commitments, the lack of oversight, accountability, and transparency to eliminate climate disinformation by social media companies significantly harms society’s ability to meet Paris commitments and beyond. 

The Facebook whistleblower’s testimony and Google/Youtube’s recent move to demonetize climate denial shows that it’s possible for platforms to take meaningful steps to protect their users from disinformation.

“Climate disinformation has declined in traditional media, but is still pervasive on Facebook,” said Julia Masters, Climate Disinformation Coalition campaign manager. “If climate talks get torpedoed by disinformation, these social media companies should be held responsible. We urge Facebook to take the simple steps needed to reduce its amplification of professional climate deniers before it’s too late.”

The letter, signed by 16 environmental groups, is in full is below:

Dear Leadership at Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, and Snapchat,

As we approach November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), it’s never been more clear that we are running out of time to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change. And even as leaders and activists from the world come together to collaborate on climate action, digital platforms are actively being used to undermine these efforts. While the broader corporate world is making bold climate commitments, the lack of true oversight, accountability, and transparency to eliminate climate disinformation significantly harms society’s  ability to meet Paris commitments and beyond. 

Research has outlined that it is far more efficient to prevent the spread of disinformation than to try to correct it afterward. However, platform efforts thus far mostly aim to tackle this through piecemeal fact-checking policies, which are ripe with loopholes that allow disinformation to continue. A recent exposé showed that Facebook has a special list of exceptions to even these loose rules, for example. Recent reporting on the February Texas power outage, which the right wing blamed on windmills, found that 99% of climate disinformation was not even fact-checked. Despite local mainstream media debunking the claims, Facebook continued to allow these false posts to stay up. Within days, Texas Governor Abbott used this as a talking point, and the GOP continues to tout claims that renewables are “unreliable.” Not only did the disinformation metastasize, but these fact-checking policies place the burden on ordinary users rather than the companies responsible for the spread. 

Analysis shows the mass of paid and organic disinformation comes from a few bad actors that are well-connected to the oil and gas industry. And studies on disinformation have shown that there are simple solutions to reduce this. After the January 6 insurrection, when the platforms removed Trump and some QAnon accounts, misinformation dropped by 73%. By deplatforming professional climate deniers and banning advertising from serial climate deniers, your companies are positioned to drastically reduce climate disinformation on social platforms.  

The Climate Disinformation Coalition is calling on all big tech platforms to take concrete, transparent steps to eliminate climate disinformation.  Climate disinformation has been largely reduced in mainstream media but is pervasive at your companies.  In light of the Facebook Files and Google/Youtube’s recent move to demonetize climate denial shows that it’s possible for platforms to take meaningful steps to protect their users from what amounts to false advertising. 

In advance of the November’s international climate negotiations, we demand your company adopt:

  1. A company program to eliminate climate disinformation, including enforceable policies that do not permit misleading or deceptive statements on climate science or policy. This policy should occur across all languages, with particular attention to vulnerable communities and federally protected classes.
  2. Consistent standards to rapidly deplatform professional climate denial influencers and repeat offenders.
  3. A fact-checking process that includes how disinformation is categorized and handled by independent fact-checkers and how fact-checking is protected from politicization by company staff. 
  4. A ban on paid ads from serial climate deniers, like fossil fuel companies that have systematically lobbied against climate action.

We request that your companies reply to this letter with clear policy expectations that address these concerns and end your role in the delay of urgent climate action.

Sincerely,

350.org
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Climate Integrity
ClimateVoice
Earthjustice
EcoBot.Net
Equality Labs
Environmental Defense Fund
Friends of the Earth
Global Exchange
Greenpeace USA
Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD)
Media Matters for America
Stop Funding Heat
Union of Concerned Scientists
Waterkeeper Alliance

Communications contact: Brittany Miller, 202-222-0746, [email protected]

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