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Social Media Companies and Climate Change Misinformation

A teenage girl at an outdoor gathering holds a sign saying "Our Future is on the Line."

According to a Pew Research survey, nearly half of Americans get news from social media. Climate change misinformation posts and ads abound on social media platforms.

An analysis of climate science denial found that “misinformation promoted by contrarian scientists and other denialist sources causes a number of negative impacts on the public.” 

The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change state that “rhetoric and misinformation on climate change and the deliberate undermining of science have contributed to misperceptions of the scientific consensus, uncertainty, disregarded risk and urgency, and dissent.” With a greater than 99 percent consensus on climate change in peer-reviewed scientific literature, climate misinformation on social media is a big problem.

Twitter releases a new climate misinformation policy

Twitter is getting serious about combatting climate misinformation. Twitter announced a new policy on Earth Day to reduce climate misinformation on its social media platform.

The company stated that “misleading advertisements…that contradict the scientific consensus on climate change are prohibited.” The company also said that “in the coming months,” it will have more to share “on our work to add reliable, authoritative context to the climate conversations happening on Twitter.”

“We applaud Twitter’s important move to demonetize climate disinformation,” said Michael Khoo, climate disinformation coalition co-chair at Friends of the Earth, in a statement. “Climate disinformation is a big business for the dark network of fossil fuel lobbyists, and we must attack its root causes.”

Social media companies tackle climate misinformation

Pinterest

Weeks before Twitter announced its new policy, Pinterest released a new climate misinformation policy. The company stated that it will remove content “that may harm the public’s well-being, safety or trust.” Pinterest will remove content that includes material denying climate change, false or misleading content about climate change, and content that misrepresents scientific data. All ads on Pinterest’s platform must comply with its community guidelines. 

Google

In October 2021, Google announced its new monetization policy for advertisers, publishers, and YouTube Creators. The policy bans ads that contradict scientific consensus around climate change. The policy extends to “content referring to climate change as a hoax or a scam, claims to deny that long-term trends show the global climate is warming, and claims denying that greenhouse gas emissions or human activity contribute to climate change.”

Facebook

Facebook announced in May 2021 that it would expand its information labels to some climate change posts. The policy went into effect in Canada, Germany, Ireland, Nigeria, South Africa, and the US. The labels link to the Climate Science Information Center. 

An analysis published in February 2022 by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that Facebook fell short of its promises to deal with climate misinformation. Now known as “Meta,” the company failed to label half of the posts promoting articles from leading publishers of climate denial. The same month, the Washington Post reported that two whistleblowers filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission, claiming that Facebook misled investors about its attempts to deal with climate change misinformation posts. 

A scorecard by Friends of the Earth, Avaaz, and Greenpeace USA revealed that most social media companies’ efforts fare poorly when combatting climate misinformation. All social media companies failed to disclose comprehensive policies to combat misinformation. All lack weekly transparency reports detailing the prevalence of climate misinformation on their platforms and the mitigation efforts taken internally. Only Pinterest and YouTube have a climate expert-informed definition of climate misinformation.

 

Photo by Josh Barwick on Unsplash

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