‘Not an abstract threat’: 250 businesses and leaders push UN and social media giants to clamp down on climate misinformation

As well as calling out social media CEOs

The call to action is being made through an open letter aimed at the UN, as well as the leaders of social media networks including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit. More than 250 organisations and individuals have signed the letter ahead of its launch today (9 November).

According to the letter, while there are “really encouraging signs” that some platforms are improving their approach for preventing and removing climate misinformation, such as Google and Youtube, it remains a “threat” that could “detail key conferences”.

For the UN, the letter requests that a universal definition of climate misinformation is drawn up, to help develop meaningful international initiatives to tackle the issue. Opportunities for this definition were missed, it states, in the original Paris Agreement framework and in recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The letter states: “COP26 is a perfect moment to start momentum for decision-makers to acknowledge the climate misinformation threat and, through global cooperation, to step up against it.”

A definition of climate disinformation and misinformation is proposed, covering statements that “undermine” the existence or impacts of climate change and the “unequivocal” human influence; misrepresent scientific data in order to erode trust in climate science, and/or are greenwashing.

For social media firms, the letter urges chief executives to replicate the “robust policies” on Covid-19-related misinformation, developed over the past 18 months, for climate. Policies should be based on a zero-tolerance approach, covering advertisements and non-monetised posts, the letter states. Companies should also be transparent about their fact-checking process and their internal research on past instances of climate misinformation spreading.

Instagram, Google, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, Reddit and Facebook are all named in the letter. Last week, Stop Funding Heat published a report stating that climate misinformation attracts between 818,000 and 1.36 million views on Facebook each day, despite the firm’s claims to the contrary.

Businesses signing the open letter include SSE, Sky, Virgin Media O2, British Gas, Ben & Jerry’s, Ecotricity, Toast Ale and Havas Media. Individual signatories include Paris Agreement architect and European Climate Foundation chief executive Laurence Tubiana, WWF’s global lead for climate and energy Manuel Pulgar-Vidal and Forum for the Future founder-director Sir Jonathon Porritt.

There are also a whole host of more than 100 supporting organisations, including the National Union of Students, Global Witness, the World Land Trust, WWF International and Friends of the Earth.

‘Toxic ten’

The open letter comes a week after a study of social media posts linking to articles predicated on climate denialism, conducted by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), found that ten US-based, Korea-based and Russia-based sites were accountable for 70% of all links shared.

These fringe publishers are branded the ‘toxic ten’ and, between them, they have more than 186 million followers on mainstream social media platforms. They are Breitbart, the Western Journal, Newsmax, Townhall Media, the Media Research Centre, the Washington Times, the Federalist Papers, the Daily Wire, Patriot Post and the Russian State Media. This latter publisher covers Sputnik News and RT.com.

Of the posts from these sites assessed, 92% were not labelled by Facebook as potential sources of misinformation.

The CCDH’s chief executive Imran Ahmed said the misinformation from the ‘toxic ten’ “is designed to undermine our confidence in the science that clearly shows again and again that action to deal with manmade climate change is necessary”.

Ahmed added: “The proliferation of false narratives, turbocharged by social media algorithms that amplify contention over consensus, drives confusion when what we need is action.”

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Sarah George

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