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The full reach of climate denial on Facebook has been revealed by InfluenceMap, which found such content to have been viewed by at least 8 million Americans in the first half of 2020. The thinktank’s trawl identified 51 climate disinformation ads funded by shadowy conservative groups, including statements that climate change is a hoax.

An insight into Facebook’s climate conspiracy challenge

  • InfluenceMap categorized climate falsehoods under three broad groups for its report: climate-science disinformation, climate brand building, and climate policy and election influencing.

  • This was achieved by analyzing a representative sample of adverts authored by thinktanks and politically motivated advertisers linked to the spread of climate disinformation.

  • The report coincides with Facebook launching its Climate Science Information Center, a fact-checking program designed to assuage concern that the platform serves as a mouthpiece for extremists.

  • Comparison between a database of known offenders and Facebook’s Ad Library database uncovered 51 instances of disinformation, principally targeted at men over the age of 55 in rural areas of the US. 

  • Adverts directed to audiences aged 18 to 34 predominantly challenged the likely future impact of climate change.

  • Cumulatively, these cost $42k to run and only one was removed by Facebook, with the remainder allowed to run as scheduled despite assertions that the network employs fact-checkers and bans false advertising.

  • A loophole in Facebook’s rules and procedures permits certain content so as not to ’interfere with individual expression, opinions and debate’.

 

Why should brands care?

  • Climate denial has emerged as a brand safety issue amid moral ambiguity around the proliferation of misleading and malicious information and a vacuum in terms of who should be held accountable to police it.

  • Leading brands such as L’Oreal, Uber and Samsung have all been caught up in controversy after finding themselves positioned alongside videos promoting climate change denial.

  • This has forced brands to work with content platforms on an ad-hoc basis to mitigate risk, but a universal solution remains elusive.

  • A recent study by Edelman found that 69% of the public believe advertisers should cease all dealings with platforms found to share ’misleading information’.

  • Reacting to the findings, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren said: “InfluenceMap’s devastating report reinforces and reveals how Facebook lets climate deniers spread dangerous junk to millions of people.“

  • Pulling no punches, Warren added: “We have repeatedly asked Facebook to close the loopholes that allow misinformation to run rampant on its platform, but its leadership would rather make a quick buck while our planet burns, sea levels rise and communities – disproportionately Black and Brown – suffer. Facebook must be held accountable for its role in the climate crisis.”