The shortcomings of Facebook’s climate misinformation strategy
Facebook launched its Climate Science Center last fall in an effort to provide users with authoritative, reliable information about climate change and climate science. In September, it said
the resource had expanded to 16 countries and was reaching more than 100,000 daily visitors. (Facebook had 1.93 billion daily active users
as of that same month.) On Monday, the company said the Climate Science Center will soon be available in more than 100 countries.
But the company’s internal documents suggest there may be barriers to effectively countering misinformation with the Climate Science Center.
“Facebook is a key place for people to get information related to climate change, so there is an opportunity to build knowledge through our platform,” according to one internal report posted in April. However, the researchers found user awareness of the Climate Science Center was low. The report said 66% of users surveyed who had visited the center “say they are not aware” of it; 86% of those who hadn’t visited it said they didn’t know about it.
The report also found that some users did not trust the information Facebook published in its Climate Science Center, especially US users. This tracks with research on the effects of climate misinformation, according to Cook.
“Providing facts is necessary but it’s insufficient to deal with misinformation,” Cook said, adding that his and others’ research has found that “misinformation can cancel out facts.” For example, if a Facebook post says one thing and a fact-check label says another, it can leave a user confused and believing neither. An effective strategy to address climate misinformation “needs to be a mix of providing facts and countering misinformation with fact checking, but also there need to be efforts to reduce the spread of misinformation or to bring down misinformation,” Cook said.
Meta, however, says that research was meant to inform internal discussions but was not representative of its user base and therefore not to measure casual relationships between its users and real-world issues. It also notes that some outside research has found that, in general, people in the United States are less likely to believe in climate change than people from other countries. A Pew Research survey
from last year, for example, found that the United States ranked among the bottom in a list of 14 developed countries in terms of its citizens believing global climate change is “a major threat” to their country.
Facebook says it does “downrank,” or reduce the spread, of climate change content that third-party fact checkers have labeled as false, and says “we take action” against pages, groups or accounts that regularly share false claims about climate science.
“We work with a global network of over 80 independent fact-checking organizations who review and rate content, including climate content, in more than 60 languages,” the company said in blog post Monday. “When they rate content as false, we add a warning label and move it lower in News Feed so fewer people see it. We don’t allow ads that have been rated by one of our fact-checking partners.”
But it doesn’t outright remove climate change misinformation — something it does do for misinformation about Covid-19, vaccines and elections.
that policy to lawmakers in a March hearing. “We divide the misinformation into things that could cause imminent physical harm, of which Covid misinformation that might lead someone to get sick … falls in the category of imminent physical harm, and we take down that content. And then other misinformation are things that are false but may not lead to imminent physical harm, we label and reduce their distribution but leave them up,” he said. 7
However, environmental advocates say climate change does indeed present imminent threats to safety.
“People around the US have faced harm from extreme events just in the last few months with Hurricane Ida and people dying, wildfires across the West and extreme heat in the Northwest,” said Kathy Mulvey, accountability campaign director for the Climate & Energy team at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Climate change is not a threat in the future, it’s a reality in the present.”