Facebook posted false ads about the weather during COP26

Advertisers of Facebook promoted on the platform false and misleading claims about the climate change in recent weeks, just as the conference on the climate of United Nations (COP26).

Days after the vice president of Facebook Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, blogged about the company’s efforts to combat climate misinformation as the Glasgow, the conservative media network Newsmax ran an ad on Facebook calling man-made global warming a “hoax”.

The ad, which had multiple versions, garnered more than 200,000 views.

In another, the conservative commentator Candace Owens claimed that “we apparently have to trust our new authoritarian government” when it comes to climate science, while a group of libertarian think tanks in the United States published an ad about how “modern doomsayers” had been wrongly predicting the weather for decades. climate crisis.

Newsmax, Owens and the Daily Wire, which paid for the ad for Owens’ page, did not respond to requests for comment.

Facebook, which recently changed its name to Meta, does not have a specific policy on climate misinformation in ads or unpaid posts.

Google, from Alphabet, said last month that it would no longer allow ads that contradict the scientific consensus on the climate change on YouTube and its other services, although it would allow content that discusses false claims.

Facebook generally does not remove misinformation in posts unless it determines that they pose imminent harm to the physical world, as it did with the falsehoods surrounding it. Covid-19.

The company says it downgrades posts rated as fake by its verifiers (of which Reuters is one) and bans ads with these discredited claims.

It says advertisers who repeatedly post false information may face restrictions on their ability to advertise on Facebook, but it exempts political ads from fact-checking.

When asked about ads that spread misinformation about the weather, a company spokesperson said in a statement: “Although these types of ads run on many platforms, Facebook offers an additional layer of transparency by requiring that they be available to users. the public in our ad library for up to seven years after publication. “

The British think-tank InfluenceMap, which identified misleading Facebook ads from various media outlets and think tanks surrounding COP26, also found that companies from fossil fuels and lobbyists spent $ 574,000 on Facebook ads on political and social issues during the summit, resulting in more than 22 million impressions and including content promoting their environmental efforts in what InfluenceMap described as “a money laundering. green face “.

One of the ads paid for by the American Petroleum Institute It featured a landscape to promote its efforts to tackle climate change, while BP America published one detailing its support for climate-friendly policies in neon green lettering.

“Our social media posts represent a small fraction compared to the heavy investments our companies make each day,” API said in a statement, stating that the natural gas and from Petroleum it was committed to reducing emissions.

BP said in a statement that it was “actively defending policies that support net zero, including carbon pricing, through a number of transparent channels, including advertising on social media.”

Facebook has started adding informational tags to climate change posts to direct users to its Climate Science Center, a new platform with data and contests that, it says, is visited by more than 100,000 people a day.

When asked in an interview broadcast this week at the event Reuters Responsible Business USA 2021 where did you think Facebook was still weak on climate issues, the CTO Mike Schroepfer He said: “Obviously, there has been concern about people sharing misinformation about the weather on Facebook.”

“I’m not going to say that we do everything right all the time,” he said. “We continually review what the state of the world is and what our role is, which starts with trying to allow the free expression of people, and then intervening when there is damage that we can prevent.”

Schroepfer did not respond directly to why Facebook had not banned all disinformation ads about the weather, but said he “didn’t want people to benefit from the disinformation.”

Employees criticize the policy

The company’s approaches to misinformation and skepticism about the climate change They have sparked a debate among employees. Discussions on its internal message board show staff discussing how they should handle climate misinformation and talking about instances of it on the platform, as in a January post in which an employee said they found “outstanding results from apparent misinformation “when he looked up climate change in his” Watch “video section.

The documents are part of a set of disclosures made to the Securities Commission and United States Stock Exchange and to Congress for the complainant Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who left in May.

Reuters was among a group of news organizations that were able to view the documents.

In comments to an April post highlighting Facebook’s commitment to reducing its own environmental impact, including achieving net zero emissions at its global operations last year, a staff member asked if the company could start sorting out and removing misinformation and weather hoaxes from its platforms.

Two outside researchers working with Facebook on its climate change efforts told Reuters they would like the company to address climate misinformation as proactively as it did address Covid-19, which Facebook cracked down during the pandemic.

“It needs to be addressed with the same level of urgency,” said John Cook, a postdoctoral researcher at Monash University’s Climate Change Communication Research Center, which advises Facebook on its climate misinformation work. “It is arguably more dangerous.”


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