The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jamie Henn,

Climate Groups Launch Petition Pressuring Social Media Platforms to Ban Fossil Fuel Ads

A coalition of leading climate groups are calling on the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok to ban fossil fuel advertising from their platforms.

San Francisco, CA

A coalition of leading climate groups are calling on the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok to ban fossil fuel advertising from their platforms.

"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," said Anusha Narayanan, Greenpeace USA climate campaign manager. "Delay and distraction is the new denial for big oil. 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."

The groups sharing the petition include Clean Creatives, Greenpeace US, and Hip Hop Caucus.

"Social media platforms have become the top purveyors of fossil fuel industry misinformation," said Duncan Meisel, the campaign director for Clean Creatives, a campaign bringing together PR and advertising agencies to stop working with fossil fuel corporations. "All of these platforms ban tobacco industry advertising. It's time to extend that commitment to fossil fuels, which cause even greater harm to public health, the environment, and our democracy."

None of the social media and digital platforms being targeted allow tobacco industry advertising, but all of them continue to accept millions of dollars from fossil fuel companies to run ads to greenwash their image, and ads explicitly aimed at blocking climate action. That's despite the well-publicized commitments from all of the social media platforms to support climate action and battle misinformation.

"Energy companies often use expensive advertising campaigns to convince the public of their environmental credibility, while hiding their true activities," said JaRel Clay, digital director of Hip Hop Caucus and former employee of Edelman Public Relations. "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. We urge the leaders of the leading social media platforms to join us on our mission by signing this pledge. "

The full extent of the fossil fuel industry's spending on social media is difficult to track, but a number of independent analyses suggest that the scope is immense.

An October 2019 study by InfluenceMap found that since May 2018, the oil and gas industry and their front groups had spent $17 million on Facebook advertising alone. An In These Times investigation in October 2020 found that ExxonMobil "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: $15.6 million from May 7, 2018, to October 8, 2020." Exxon's ads appeared on Facebook and Instagram users' screens as many as 265 million times during that period.

The industry also uses fake front groups and influencers to spread their messaging across social media. Exxon has set up Facebook pages for made-up local groups to battle environmental measures. 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.

"Fossil fuel companies are increasingly using social media advertising as a key part of their overall strategy to influence government policies on climate. While platforms might have rules to deal with outright climate denial, the fossil fuel industry engages in far more subtle campaigns designed to reinforce the idea that it remains 'part of the solution', while promoting the continued use of fossil fuels," said Faye Holder, Program Manager at InfluenceMap. "The world's scientists are clear that we need to transition away from fossil fuels if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees - a goal publicly supported by many of the same platforms that accept millions of dollars every year from fossil fuel industry ads. That leaves social media companies with an important choice: acting on the science, or continuing to allow advertising that's misaligned with it."

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.

"The long term health of our communities far outweigh the short term profit made off the back of a dying, destructive industry," said Greenpeace's Narayanan. "Banning advertisements from fossil fuel corporations is a turnkey opportunity for social media companies to show they are serious about protecting our planet. They already reject ads for a number of reasons, it's simply a matter of adding fossil fuels to that list."

The campaign targeting social media platforms is part of a growing effort to combat fossil fuel industry disinformation. Lawsuits from state Attorneys General are targeting oil companies for false advertising. Congressional committees are beginning to look at climate disinformation. Campaigns like Clean Creatives are pressuring PR and advertising agencies to drop fossil fuel industry clients.

"For decades, the fossil fuel industry has polluted our airwaves and social media feeds in order to keep polluting our atmosphere," said Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media, the organization behind the Clean Creatives campaign. "It's time to clear things up."

Fossil Free Media is a nonprofit media lab that supports the movement to end fossil fuels and address the climate emergency.