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Facebook protest outside the U.S. Capitol.

Climate activists target Facebook with an ice display in front of the U.S. Capitol on November 4, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Facebook Fails to Label Climate Misinformation From 'Toxic 10': Analysis

"The price of Mark Zuckerberg's failure to deal with his platforms' pollution of the information ecosystem," said one advocate, "is catastrophic damage to our physical ecosystem—including climate change, forced migration, drought, and famine."

Kenny Stancil

Despite promising to fight climate misinformation, Facebook is failing to flag over half of the misleading articles shared by prominent climate change deniers, according to a new analysis out Wednesday.

"Big Tech has friended Big Oil and does its dirty work of enabling the spread of disinformation about climate science."

Facebook announced last year that it would begin attaching "informational labels" to some posts about climate change, directing users to the platform's new "Climate Science Information Center."

But researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that more often than not, Facebook is failing to label content from the leading publishers of climate misinformation, echoing previous studies of the social media giant's massive failure to combat climate lies.

In a November report titled The Toxic Ten, CCDH identified the top 10 digital publishers of misinformation about the life-threatening reality of the fossil fuel-driven planetary emergency, which includes Breitbart, the Federalist Papers, Daily Wire, and Russian state media. These 10 outlets alone are responsible for nearly 70% of Facebook interactions with climate denial articles.

Using the social analytics tool NewsWhip, CCDH researchers analyzed 184 articles containing climate denial published by the "toxic 10" since May 19, 2021, when Facebook said that it would step up its efforts to fight climate misinformation. This sample of articles received more than one million likes, comments, or shares on Facebook.

Then, using the CrowdTangle tool provided by Meta—the parent company of Facebook and Instagram—researchers identified the top public Facebook post for each of the 184 articles under scrutiny, documented whether it had been given an "informational label," and recorded the number of interactions it had accumulated.

According to CCDH, "50.5% (93) of the most popular posts associated with articles in the sample carried no information label. The 93 articles without labels had 541,877 Facebook interactions, equating to 53% of total interactions with articles in the sample."

Posts that were not flagged included:

  • A Breitbart article claiming that global warming is a "hoax";

  • A Washington Times article claiming that "Covid-19 and climate change are being used to steal our liberties";

  • A NewsBusters article referring to so-called "alarmist climate propaganda";

  • A Daily Wire article claiming "the Left Is Spreading Global Warming Alarmism"; and

  • A Breitbart article branding a leading climate scientist a "climate alarmist."

"By failing to do even the bare minimum to address the spread of climate denial information, Meta is exacerbating the climate crisis," CCDH executive director Imran Ahmed said in a statement. "Climate change denial—designed to fracture our resolve and impede meaningful action to mitigate climate change—flows unabated on Facebook and Instagram."

"Meta keeps claiming it cares about climate change but they have failed to stop the spread of misinformation about climate change on their platform," said Ahmed. "They have failed even to consistently apply measures that they themselves admit are of limited efficacy, such as labeling."

In a video shared on Twitter, CCDH drew attention to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg's stated approach to curbing misinformation and exposed its inadequacy.

"We divide the misinformation into things that could cause imminent physical harm, and we take down that content," said Zuckerberg. "And then other misinformation or things that are false but may not lead to imminent physical harm, we label and reduce their distribution, but leave them up."

"Facebook should not be trusted and must be regulated, especially as they attempt to escape to the metaverse."

Not only did Zuckerberg lie about labeling and limiting the spread of climate denial articles, said CCDH, but an estimated 150,000 people die each year as a result of the climate crisis, according to the World Health Organization—a clear refutation of Facebook's attempt to classify climate misinformation as something that doesn't jeopardize physical well-being and thus warrant swift removal.

"The price of Mark Zuckerberg's failure to deal with his platforms' pollution of the information ecosystem," said Ahmed, "is catastrophic damage to our physical ecosystem—including climate change, forced migration, drought, and famine."

Emphasizing that "Facebook's toxic algorithms need to be reined in," Alaphia Zoyab, director of Reset, a progressive digital media reform group, said that CCDH's latest research "shows how Big Tech has friended Big Oil and does its dirty work of enabling the spread of disinformation about climate science."

Michael Khoo, co-chair of the Climate Disinformation Coalition at Friends of the Earth, noted that "Facebook has consistently shown they can't be trusted. Facebook needs to open the books and lawmakers must step in to require full transparency from them and other social media platforms."

Praising CCDH's "strong research" and connecting it to the exposés of whistleblower Frances Haugen and others, Khoo said that "Facebook will say one thing and yet do another."

"Facebook," he added, "should not be trusted and must be regulated, especially as they attempt to escape to the metaverse."


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