It’s hard to know how to take this one.
This week, Facebook is launching a new Climate Science Information Center in its main app, which aims to connect users with accurate, timely climate information, in order to support broader efforts to combat global warming and its related impacts.
As explained by Facebook:
“One of the biggest lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is how powerful Facebook can be for connecting people to accurate, expert advice and information during a global crisis. Now, we are taking a similar approach to the climate crisis by launching a new Climate Science Information Center on Facebook to connect people to factual and up-to-date climate information.”
Which is good, right? Facebook is using its massive global reach to benefit a major issue, which will impact everyone. That’s a good thing. Right?
Well, it is, but at the same time, it’s also Facebook that facilitates much of the counter action on issues like climate change, by providing a platform, and a means of distribution, for conspiracy theories and anti-science groups that fuel the push against efforts to curb the same.
For example, back in July, an investigation by Popular Information, found that Facebook had allowed the distribution of certain climate change denial content, despite the information being disputed by its own fact-checking partners.
As per Popular Information:
“The article, authored by Michael Shellenberger and published on The Daily Wire, uses 12 “facts” to argue that concern about climate change is overblown. […] But then, without explanation, the fact-check was removed. If a Facebook user attempts to share the article today, there is no warning and no link to the fact-check. Shellenberger’s piece, on The Daily Wire and elsewhere, has now been shared over 65,000 times on Facebook.”
In their investigation, the PI team found that top Facebook executives were specifically consulted on the fact-check ruling, which eventually lead to the removal of the marker. The report additionally noted that Facebook “was asked by the office of Congressman Mike Johnson (R-LA), a powerful member of Republican leadership, to reverse the fact-check”.
And that’s not the only time Facebook has seemingly allowed climate denial posts to see mass distribution – in August, another investigation found that Facebook was allowing many climate change denial posts to be distributed on its platform, without fact checks, by marking them as ‘opinion’ rather than factual reports. Opinion posts are exempt from Facebook’s fact-checking process, so Facebook has been knowingly allowing the spread of such content, using loopholes in its own system, in order to either appease political groups and/or benefit from increased engagement.
For its part, Facebook says that it is stepping up its efforts on this front:
“We’re committed to tackling climate misinformation. We partner with more than 70 independent fact-checking organizations globally, covering more than 60 languages. These fact-checkers can and do rate climate science content. As with all types of claims debunked by our fact-checkers, we reduce the distribution of these posts in News Feed and apply a warning label on top of these posts both on Facebook and Instagram so people understand that the content has been rated false.”
Though if it’s labeled as ‘opinion’, maybe not. And it takes very little effort to find a heap of climate denial content on Facebook, for anybody who goes looking.
Still, the addition of the Climate Science Information Center could be something of a turning point, maybe, a step towards backing scientific facts, and reducing the spread of misinformation. Facebook’s recent history would suggest that such should be viewed with a level of skepticism, but at the same time, it may be part of a renewed effort to improve on this front, and ensure the distribution of official, science-backed information.
In addition to this, Facebook also notes that its own global operations will achieve net zero carbon emissions and be 100% supported by renewable energy this year.
“Over the next decade, Facebook will work to reduce carbon emissions from our operations and value chain, including by working with suppliers on their own goals, helping the development of new carbon removal technologies and making our facilities as efficient as possible.”
So, good again, right? Facebook’s doing its bit to help. Even if its massive reach may still be facilitating the spread of dangerous lies.
How effective, or helpful this new push is we’ll have to wait and see.
Facebook’s Climate Science Information Center will initially be launched in France, Germany, the UK and the US, with more regions to follow.