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Facebook removes false label from climate skeptics’ article

By Jeff Horwitz


The rules, which haven’t been announced, coincide with Facebook’s decision last week to remove a false designation from a Washington Examiner opinion piece, overriding the conclusion of one of its fact-check partners. That op-ed argued that global-warming climate models have been inaccurate and that the risks of climate change is overblown.

The removal of the false label was celebrated by the CO2 Coalition, which employs the op-ed’s authors and argued in a letter to Facebook that the company had “used a partisan fact-check group to defame them.” The group, which receives funding from the oil-and-gas industry, dismisses global warming as a hoax and advocates for the “important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy.”

[Dr. Caleb S. Rossiter, Executive Director of the CO2 Coalition, wishes to correct some inaccuracies in this article:

“The article claims that the CO2 Coalition ‘which receives funding from the oil-and-gas industry, dismisses global warming as a hoax….’ To the contrary, all of our scientific publications and congressional testimony consistently state that  carbon dioxide is a warming gas that has contributed to the one degree rise in global mean temperature in the past 140 years. The UN body that reports on climate change is confident that a quarter of the degree global rise comes from carbon dioxide emissions, rather than natural causes. We agree that is a reasonable estimate. The UN body also estimates that temperature ‘sensitivity’ to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels ranges from 1.5 to 4.5 degrees — a three-fold difference.  Research by Coalition atmospheric physicists argues that the lower estimate is closer to reality, but never claims that the proper estimate is zero!

“As for funding by the oil-and-gas industry, this is an ad hominem attack, and isn’t even accurate. I would be happy to accept funding from anyone, but the CO2 Coalition has not received any such funding, with the exception of a $5,000 grant from Marathon Oil in 2015. That accounts for two-tenths of one percent of our income since then. As a candidate for Congress and as head of a non-governmental arms control group I accepted over a million dollars from people who supported the positions I held. That never stopped me from changing my positions when the data and analysis required it. The CO2 Coalition’s 50 climate scientists and energy economists have a long record of valuing principle over paycheck.”]

A Facebook spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for comment on the new rules.

Together, the changes demonstrate the company’s continuing struggle to limit the spread of so-called fake news and other misinformation without being accused of stifling free speech.

“I know Facebook doesn’t want to be in the middle of this, but here they are,” said Angie Drobnic Holan, the editor of PolitiFact and a member of the board of the International Fact-Checking Network, which accredits Facebook’s fact-checking partners.

Ms. Holan said she expected that the changes as described would only affect the overall fact-checking program at the margins, but noted that publishers of false statements have a history of arguing that they are opinions.

“There are cases where the line between fact and opinion are not as bright as you might think,” she said.