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.”