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25,000 Ads, 431 Million Views as Facebook Lets Fossils Spread Climate Misinformation

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Online behemoth Facebook turned its back in its own commitments to climate action and truth in advertising by allowing 25 fossil industry organizations in the United States to mount a $9.5-million misinformation campaign during last year’s high-stakes presidential election, London-based thinktank InfluenceMap concludes in a report released this week.

“Despite Facebook’s public support for climate action, it continues to allow its platform to be used to spread fossil fuel propaganda,” the report stated. “Not only is Facebook inadequately enforcing its existing advertising policies, it’s clear that these policies are not keeping pace with the critical need for urgent climate action.”

The analysis showed the fossils’ investment in Facebook ads ramping up in July 2020, right after then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced a $2-trillion climate plan. “This suggests the oil and gas industry uses Facebook advertising strategically and for politically motivated purposes,” InfluenceMap wrote.

Of the $9.5 million spent by the 25 fossil groups, InfluenceMap found, $5 million came from colossal fossil ExxonMobil, and groups led by the American Petroleum Institute pitched in another $3 million. The organizations placed more than 25,000 ads on Facebook that were viewed more than 431 million times.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg, Grist says: InfluenceMap focused its report on Facebook ads, “which represent only a fraction of the oil industry’s wider campaign to influence the discourse on climate change,” because that was the only data available.

“We just looked at Facebook,” said InfluenceMap Program Manager Faye Holder. “That is because the other social media platforms don’t even offer this transparency.”

The research “shows the fossil fuel industry has moved away from outright denying the climate crisis, and is now using social media to promote oil and gas as part of the solution,” The Guardian writes. “The report also exposed what it said was Facebook’s role in facilitating the dissemination of false claims about global heating by failing to consistently apply its own policies to stop erroneous advertising.”

The industry “is using a range of messaging tactics that are far more nuanced than outright statements of climate denial,” the report stated. “Some of the most significant tactics found included tying the use of oil and gas to maintaining a high quality of life, promoting fossil gas as green, and publicizing the voluntary actions taken by the industry on climate change.”

Much of the advertising was aimed at shifting the focus from the industry’s own carbon emissions to lifestyle choices by individual Americans that, according to the International Energy Agency, can produce about 8% of the emission reductions required to get climate change under control.

While Facebook removed some ads that were misleading or failed to include appropriate disclaimers, it allowed many others to go unchallenged. “We reject ads when one of our independent factchecking partners rates them as false or misleading, and take action against pages, groups, accounts, and websites that repeatedly share content rated as false,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Guardian.

The Guardian and Grist both have more on the shifts in fossil industry messaging reflected in the InfluenceMap report.

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2 Comments To "25,000 Ads, 431 Million Views as Facebook Lets Fossils Spread Climate Misinformation"

#1 Comment By Diane Beckett On August 6, 2021 @ 8:25 PM

The agriculture and food industry is pursuing exactly the same strategy of disinformation about their role in climate change as the fossil fuel sector. They are green washing their impacts. Especially animal agriculture which takes up 83% of farmland for only 18% of calories and produces highly climate changing methane as well carbon dioxide. Animal agriculture produces more GHGs than the whole transportation sector including ships, planes, vehicles and pipelines.

#2 Comment By Frank Sterle Jr. On August 14, 2021 @ 2:08 PM

Facebook is far from being the sole guilty media. Both government and the media can tell when a very large portion of the electorate is too tired and worried about feeding/housing themselves or their family, and the devastation left in COVID-19’s wake — all while on insufficient income — to criticize them for whatever environmental damage their policies cause/allow, particularly when not immediately observable. Without doubt, mass addiction to fossil fuel products helps keep the average consumer quiet about the planet’s greatest and still very profitable polluter. It must be quite convenient for the industry. Regardless of which political party, our (Canada’s) federal governments consistently prop the already profitable fossil fuel industry.

It must have a solid foundation here when even our mainstream print news-media formally support Canada’s industry. News conglomerate Postmedia is on record as being allied with not only the planet’s second most polluting forms of “energy” (i.e. fossil fuel), but also the most polluting/dirtiest of crude oils — bitumen. [“Mair on Media’s ‘Unholiest of Alliances’ With Energy Industry”, Rafe Mair, Nov.14 2017, TheTyee.ca] Furthermore, in late May, Postmedia refused to run paid ads by Leadnow, a social and environmental justice organization, that expose the Royal Bank of Canada as the largest financer of fossil fuel extraction in Canada.