Despite social platforms claiming to be committed to fighting climate change and tackling climate disinformation, researchers say otherwise. As outlined in this report from Stop Funding Heat, Facebook has failed to control its platform, with misleading viral content and fact-checking loopholes for opinion content. A report from Influence Map on Big Oil advertising on Facebook shows how just 25 oil and gas groups placed over 25,000 ads on Facebook, spending nearly $10 million in 2020 alone. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm drove (hundreds of) millions of views of misinformation content, as reported by Avaaz. Big Oil continues to spend millions of dollars on Twitter advertising, despite their political ad content ban.
The Climate Disinformation Coalition, along with fourteen other climate organizations, penned this open letter sent on October 15th to demand concrete policy shifts from Big Tech leadership.
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:
- 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.
- Consistent standards to rapidly deplatform professional climate denial influencers and repeat offenders.
- 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.
- 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.
Center for Biological Diversity
Environmental Defense Fund
Friends of the Earth
Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD)
Media Matters for America
Stop Funding Heat
Union of Concerned Scientists
More signatories listed with the original letter. Thank you to Julia Masters, Campaign Manager with Climate Disinformation Coalition, for the support in re-publishing the letter in Branch. Coverage of the letter includes these articles in Forbes, AdWeek, and NPR.