Falsehoods about climate change run rampant on Facebook, study finds

Facebook’s refusal to fact-check lies and misinformation about climate change show it is ‘the Big Tobacco of our generation,’ one group says
Photo: jimjarmo/Flickr

First published at Common Dreams

A new study published Thursday by a pair of watchdog groups shows Facebook is allowing climate misinformation to proliferate widely—and profiting from it—even as its newly rebranded parent company vows to curb such lies on the massive social media platform.

Conducted by the Real Facebook Oversight Board (RFOB) and Stop Funding Heat, the analysis found “an average range of between 818,000 and 1.36 million views of climate misinformation every day” on nearly 200 Facebook accounts, including pages and groups with such names as “Climate Change is Crap” and “Man Made Climate Change is a HOAX!”

“Facebook is the Big Tobacco of our generation, greenwashing to avoid responsibility and sowing confusion and doubt about climate change in the global conversation,” RFOB said in a statement. “Facebook cannot and will not police themselves. We need real, independent, transparent outside oversight and regulation and an investigation into all of Facebook’s activities—including the dangerous spread of climate disinformation.”

The study noted that just 3.6% of the climate misinformation identified over the course of the research process was fact-checked. The number of shares, comments, reactions per post from Facebook pages that peddle climate lies has risen nearly 77% since the beginning of 2021, according to the study.

“The flood of disinformation unleashed by Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook is drowning audiences around the world, with more than 1.3 million views of climate misinformation each day,” Rewan Al-Haddad, a campaigns adviser for SumOfUs, said in response to the report. “Demanding better of Facebook only leads to more greenwashing and lies. We call for the U.S., U.K., and the E.U. to stop Facebook’s unchecked power, for the sake of our climate and our collective future.”

On Thursday morning, SumOfUs organizers placed a 5,000-pound block of ice in front of the U.S. Capitol along with signs imploring Congress to “stop Facebook from destroying our planet.”

As the ice melted, it revealed Facebook’s logo surrounded by flames, signifying the platform’s role in fueling climate disinformation.

 

The watchdog groups behind the new analysis stressed that Facebook is not merely failing to stop the spread of climate-related falsehoods—it is also profiting off the damaging lies. The study discovered “a total of 113 climate misinformation adverts… over the time period January 1st to October 17th, 2021.”

“Using Facebook’s own numbers, these adverts amounted to an estimated spend of between $58,000 and $75,000 and between 8.3 million and 11.7 million views,” the report observed. “Almost all of the adverts (over 90%) had a disclaimer for social issues, elections, or politics, but none of the adverts in each case were fact-checked or taken down.”

Sean Buchan, chief researcher for Stop Funding Heat, said the findings solidify Facebook’s status as one of the “world’s biggest purveyors of climate misinformation,” despite the company’s recent and ongoing efforts to portray itself as an ally of science.

“Our report shows the staggering scale of climate misinformation on Facebook,” said Buchan. “Clearly, Facebook’s Third-Party Fact-Checking Program, and its Climate Science Center, has failed.”