Facebook accused of failing to tackle climate misinformation, despite crackdown on fake news
Even though Facebook bans false advertising and has recently introduced new measures to tackle misinformation, 51 advertisements promoting climate denialism were posted by US-based users in the first half of 2020 and were viewed by millions of people.
That is according to new analysis from non-profit InfluenceMap, which works to assess the gaps between corporates’ environmental commitments and their actual impact and processes.
Using data from Facebook’s Ad Library, the analysis reveals that more than $42,000 was collectively spent by just nine US-based advertisers on climate misinformation campaigns between January and June. This money was used to fund 51 posts which were collectively viewed by more than eight million people.
Advertisers accused are PragerU; the Mackinac Centre for Public Policy; Texas Public Policy Foundation; Turning Point USA; the Capital Research Centre; Washington Policy Centre; the CO2 Coalition; the Clear Energy Alliance and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Posts made by these organisations regularly attack the credibility of research bodies like the IPCC and argue that there is not a widespread scientific consensus on global warming. Often, they tell viewers that the use of fossil fuels by humanity is not contributing to the global temperature increase, positing instead the idea that warming cycles are “natural”.
“Think climate change is going to make severe weather worse? Think again,” one of the ads reads. This is despite the fact that climate change is proven to have been a contributing factor in 93% of extreme heat events this decade, as well as 61% of droughts and 54% of hurricanes and floods.
“Climate change panic is not based on facts,” another ad states in capital letters, showing imagery of youth climate strikes.
InfluenceMap also identified a further 30 adverts for which it was unable to determine spending. These adverts urged viewers to believe that those linking climate change to man-made emissions are “leftist alarmists” seeking solely to discredit right-wing politicians.
Facebook’s policy for users prohibits false advertising. The social media giant has also accelerated efforts to crack down on fake news – advertising or otherwise – this year, amid the spread of Covid-19 related misinformation and conspiracy theories.
As such, InfluenceMap believes that advertisers are exploiting Facebook's commitment to “individual opinions, expression and debate” to get their misinformation online – and prevent it from being taken down.
Facebook said in September that it “committed to tackling climate misinformation” as it launched a new information centre and set new emissions reductions targets for its supply chain.
But the company’s former sustainability director Bill Weihl said it has a historic problem with “saying ‘we’re doing some good’” while letting the misinformation problem “continue mostly unabated”.
“Calling out the climate misinformation issue on Facebook is crucial because the company’s limited attempts to deal with the problem are failing to keep pace with powerful tactics like micro-targeting,” said Weihl, who now spearheads campaigning organisation Climate Voice. Micro-targeting is when advertisers use personal data to aggressively target a particular demographic. Climate misinformation ads are often aimed at males aged 55 and over, InfluenceMap claims.
Responding to the InfluenceMap report and to Weihl's comments, a Facebook spokesperson told edie the company “We prohibit ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact-checkers and is investigating the findings of this report."