Though Facebook insists that it is curtailing the spread of climate disinformation, anti-climate ads continue to circulate widely via the social network behemoth.
A new report from the non-profit think tank InfluenceMap finds that digital climate denial is alive and well on Facebook, reports Grist. “According to the group’s report, Facebook has allowed lobbying groups with opaque funding sources to use the platform’s marketing tools to spread doubt about the science of climate change.”
With skittish fossil companies no longer keen on being associated with attacks on science, more obscure entities like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and PragerU (not a university) “have taken up that mantle,” writes Grist. And thanks to regulations governing 501(c)(4) charities in the U.S., “these groups often don’t need to tell the public who’s funding them.”
Digging into Facebook’s Ad Library, which the company recently launched with the purported intent of increasing transparency, InfluenceMap found 51 climate disinformation ads that drew a substantial audience on the platform from January to July, garnering eight million cumulative views.
InfluenceMap’s analysis also revealed that Facebook’s use of third-party checkers to “flag and limit the spread of inaccurate content” is hardly a failsafe method. “Just one of the 51 misleading climate ads was removed by Facebook, while the remaining 50 were allowed to run for the entirety of their scheduled lifetimes,” Grist reports.
The climate disinformation ads were “highly targeted” for specific genders, ages, and regions, the study found. Men over 55 living in rural states were found to be far more likely than their younger, urban counterparts to be shown climate falsehoods on their feeds.
Facebook’s reluctance to effectively address climate disinformation is in stark contrast to its commitment to keeping its users connected to the reality of the pandemic, notes Grist. InfluenceMap discovered that, “in April, Facebook affixed warning labels to 50 million posts containing inaccurate claims about COVID-19 and began using the news feed to show messages correcting the record to users who had liked, reacted, or commented on misinformation.”
The glaring disparity shows a gap in urgency, said InfluenceMap Executive Director Dylan Tanner. “Maybe in the minds of some people, climate is less urgent,” he told Grist. “But that doesn’t mean climate disinformation shouldn’t be addressed by social media companies, and they certainly can do it.”