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Shell greenwashing

Extinction Rebellion climate campaigners draw attention to fossil fuel industry greenwashing during a September 8, 2020 protest in London, United Kingdom. (Photo: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Green Groups' Petition Urges Social Media Platforms to Ban Big Oil Ads

"Banning advertisements from fossil fuel corporations is a turnkey opportunity for social media companies to show they are serious about protecting our planet."

Brett Wilkins

A coalition of climate and social justice advocacy groups on Monday published a petition urging the CEOs of leading social media companies to stop publishing fossil fuel advertising on their platforms.

"Social media platforms have become the top purveyors of fossil fuel industry misinformation."
—Duncan Meisel, Clean Creatives

Juxtaposing the tens of millions of dollars spent by fossil fuel corporations on social advertising with social media companies' professed desire to combat the climate emergency, the coalition—which includes the groups Clean Creatives, Greenpeace USA, and Hip Hop Caucus—is calling on the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok to ban carbon polluters' ads.

A 2020 investigation by In These Times found that ExxonMobil alone spent $15.6 million on Facebook ads between May and October of last year. These ads appeared as many as 265 million times on Facebook and Instagram users' screens. Facebook owns Instagram.

"Exxon has spent more than any other major corporation on ​'social issues, elections, or politics' Facebook ads (outside of Facebook itself), and is the country's ninth-largest buyer of such ads overall," according to In These Times.

In a statement promoting the petition, Clean Creatives campaign director Duncan Meisel charged that "social media platforms have become the top purveyors of fossil fuel industry misinformation."

The coalition also called out fossil fuel companies' widespread use of fake front groups and influencers.

"Exxon has set up Facebook pages for made-up local groups to battle environmental measures," it said in a statement. "Shell is currently running an influencer program across Instagram. The natural gas industry has also turned to Instagram to promote gas stoves and push back against gas bans."

Also noted in the coalition's statement is the lack of social media safeguards against false and misleading fossil fuel ads:

None of the social media platforms currently have protections in place against this sort of advertising. Google allows oil companies to bid on search terms and place advertising next to web pages or news stories about climate change. TikTok brags about running a pro-climate series, #ForClimate, on its corporate website, but currently has no policies in place to stop industry misinformation from spreading across its platform. Twitter's ban on political advertising, while well intentioned, has had the effect of banning environmental groups from running ads about climate change, while allowing fossil fuel companies to keep running ads that can be only understood as political in nature. Facebook recently overruled its own scientific fact-checking committee when it tried to flag climate denial on the site, even as it banned actual climate scientists from spreading facts about the crisis.

Greenpeace USA climate campaign manager Anusha Narayanan said that "the definition of hypocrisy is social media giants saying they care about environmental impacts while accepting millions of dollars from fossil fuel corporations to peddle their propaganda."

"The definition of hypocrisy is social media giants saying they care about environmental impacts while accepting millions of dollars from fossil fuel corporations to peddle their propaganda."
—Anusha Narayanan, Greenpeace USA

"Delay and distraction is the new denial for big oil," added Narayanan. "Now in the face of widespread public support for climate action, these companies are desperately running to social media to cast themselves as an ally."

JaRel Clay, digital director of Hip Hop Caucus, said that "energy companies often use expensive advertising campaigns to convince the public of their environmental credibility, while hiding their true activities. We believe that advertising is a powerful tool that should be used to drive the change we want to see, not continue the greenwashing practices of the fossil fuel industry."

Greenpeace's Narayanan said that "the long-term health of our communities far outweigh the short-term profit made off the back of a dying, destructive industry."

"Banning advertisements from fossil fuel corporations is a turnkey opportunity for social media companies to show they are serious about protecting our planet," she added. "They already reject ads for a number of reasons, it's simply a matter of adding fossil fuels to that list."

Meisel noted that social media platforms already ban tobacco industry ads, and asserted that "it's time to extend that commitment to fossil fuels, which cause even greater harm to public health, the environment, and our democracy."


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