The Next Front in Facebook’s Battle of Misinformation: Climate Change

More than a year later, in January 2021, a Facebook employee noticed a similar concern when searching for “climate change” on the social network’s video-on-demand service, Facebook Watch. The second result, according to the employee, was a video titled “The climate change panic is not based on facts.” The video had been posted nine days earlier and already had 6.6 million views, according to another internal post.

These examples were marked by Facebook (full board) employees on the company’s internal site, according to documents reviewed by CNN Business. These were part of hundreds of internal company documents included as evidence to support disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by Facebook. whistleblower Frances Haugen legal counsel. A consortium of news organizations, including CNN, reviewed redacted versions received by Congress.
The documents highlight how, for years, some employees of the social media company, who recently changed his name to Meta – has raised alarms about the dissemination of erroneous information about climate change on its platforms and has asked the company to do more to combat it.
There has long been public pressure on the social media company to act on climate change misinformation. In March, CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted to legislators that “climate misinformation … is a big problem.”
This week, Meta announced additional climate-related efforts that coincided with the start of the Climate Summit COP26, where world leaders met to discuss efforts to prevent catastrophic disruptions due to climate change. Meta was already facing heavy scrutiny following the leak of tens of thousands of pages of internal documents that Haugen took from the company, now known as the “Facebook Documents.”

Although Facebook has taken a number of steps in recent years to address climate change disinformation, it has so far resisted calls to remove such content entirely, as it does with Covid-19 or electoral disinformation. Instead, it has focused on efforts to promote good information and relies on third-party fact-checkers to label false claims.

On Monday, the company’s Vice President of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, announced in a blog post Facebook is taking additional steps to address climate change, including expanding informational labels on some climate change posts to more than a dozen countries.
But the company’s own research has hinted at limitations in part of its strategy, including highlighting user awareness and trust issues with its Climate Science Center, a dedicated climate change information hub that launched last year, the documents show. Some employees have also raised concerns that Facebook’s current efforts are not enough, documents show. In a comment on another internal post earlier this year about the company’s efforts to combat climate change, including by allowing people to raise funds to combat climate change on Instagram and Facebook, an employee said: “This is a great job. Can we take it? One more step and start sorting out and removing climate misinformation and hoaxes from our platforms? ”

Meta has repeatedly said that the “Facebook Docs” paint a skewed picture of the company and its efforts. The company said internal documents underscore “the reasons we have launched our Climate Science Center and informed our approach to connecting people with authoritative information on climate change from the world’s leading climate change organizations.”

“As a result, more than 100,000 people visit the Climate Science Center every day and we continue to update it with new features and more practical resources so people know how they can make a difference,” Meta spokesperson Kevin McAlister said in a statement to CNN Business. He added that on Facebook Search and Watch, the company has removed climate denial suggestions and now directs users to the Climate Science Center and other authoritative information sources, with misinformation accounting for only a small percentage of all content. weather-related on company platforms. .

However, experts say the stakes couldn’t be higher for Facebook to further improve its solutions to this problem – and soon.

“Given the [climate change] it is an existential threat, we cannot be casual about the seriousness of the threat of climate misinformation, “said John Cook, a postdoctoral researcher at Monash University’s Climate Change Communication Research Center.” It must be approached with the same level of urgency and proactivity that they are showing with Covid-19 and electoral disinformation. ”

Facebook launched its Climate Science Center in September 2020 in an effort to provide users with credible information on climate change.

The shortcomings of Facebook’s climate disinformation strategy

Facebook launched its Climate Science Center last fall in an effort to provide users with authoritative and reliable information on climate change and climate science. In September, He said the resource had expanded to 16 countries and reached more than 100,000 daily visitors. (Facebook had 1.93 billion daily active users starting later that month.) On Monday, the company said the Climate Science Center will soon be available in more than 100 countries.

But internal company 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 generate knowledge through our platform,” according to an internal report published in April. However, the researchers found that user awareness of the Climate Science Center was low. The report said that 66% of users surveyed who had visited the center “say they are unaware” of it; 86% of those who had not visited said they did not know.

The report also found that some users did not trust the information Facebook posted in its Climate Science Center, especially US users. This follows research on the effects of climate misinformation, according to Cook.

Key quotes from Facebook docs

“Providing facts is necessary, but it is not sufficient to deal with misinformation,” Cook said, adding that his research and that of others have found that “misinformation can negate facts.” For example, if a Facebook post says one thing and a fact-check tag says another, it can leave the user confused and not believe either. An effective strategy to address climate misinformation “should be a combination of providing facts and countering misinformation with fact-checking, but efforts should also be made to reduce the spread of misinformation or to reduce misinformation,” he said. Cook.

Meta, however, says the research was intended 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 problems. He 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 in other countries. A Pew investigation poll Last year’s, for example, found that the United States ranked bottom on a list of 14 developed countries in terms of citizens who believe that global climate change is “a major threat” to their country.

Facebook says it “downgrades” or reduces the spread of climate change content that third-party fact-checkers have labeled 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 more than 80 independent fact-checking organizations that review and rate content, including climate content, in more than 60 languages,” the company said in a blog post Monday. “When they rate content as fake, we add a warning tag and move it down the News Feed so fewer people will see it. We do not allow ads that have been rated by one of our fact-checking partners.”

But it doesn’t completely eliminate misinformation about climate change, something it does with misinformation about Covid-19, vaccines, and elections.

Zuckerberg explained that policy to lawmakers in a March hearing. “We break down misinformation into things that could cause imminent physical harm, of which Covid misinformation that could lead to someone getting sick … falls into the category of imminent physical harm, and we remove that content. And then, other misinformation is things that are false but may not lead to imminent physical harm, we label and reduce their distribution but put aside, “he said.

However, environmental advocates say climate change does present imminent security threats.

“People in the US have faced extreme event damage in just the last few months with Hurricane Ida and people dying, wildfires in the West and extreme heat in the Northwest,” said Kathy Mulvey, Responsibility Campaign Director. from the Climate and Energy team at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Climate change is not a threat in the future, it is a reality in the present.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly indicated John Cook’s current college affiliation. He is a postdoctoral researcher at Monash University’s Climate Change Communication Research Center.

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