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How Meta Failed to Fight Against American Climate Denial

The company had made efforts to insulate its users against the health-related hoaxes that had engulfed its platform as the pandemic began. Some seven million posts were axed between April and June, which did not go unnoticed. The apparent seriousness with which Facebook, now known as Meta, had responded to the global pandemic had, instead of seeming a success, merely cast a bitter light on its handling of climate change. For all of Facebook’s bloviating against the perils of becoming an online “arbiter of truth,” the company now seemed to be squarely in the business of deciding which areas of science deserved protecting, and which could be deemed baseless conspiracy theories.

The Facebook Papers show that as late as Fall 2021, Facebook workers struggled to justify the company’s position on the science of the warming planet, many aware that the few policies it did have in place were accomplishing next to nothing. One document shows the concerns of an employee who tried simply searching for “climate change” in the Facebook app. One of the top posts returned warned: “Climate Change Panic Is Not Based on Facts!” It was a video with 6.6 million views. After some chatter, employees realized that the system Facebook devised to gently nudge users toward more authoritative sources of information had no effect when users searched for videos. One remarked, “Seems like a big hole.”

The contrast between how the company dealt with the threat of covid-19 as opposed to climate change struck critics as ludicrous. Facebook had just announced a crackdown on misleading posts about the respiratory virus, pledging to remove any and all content posing “imminent physical harm.” In July 2020, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told The New York Times that disinformation on climate change did not fall into the category of content that posed an immediate threat to human health and safety.

Though that was the company line, one employee wrote, “According to the same kind of global experts we defer to on COVID-19 and vaccines, climate change is already causing harm today.” They added, “The fact that climate change is happening ‘slowly’ from a human perspective doesn’t mean it’s not an immediate and urgent threat.”

In internal documents published for the first time below, you’ll find figures from Facebook’s own investigations into the effectiveness of its big, public push to boost awareness around our current altered climate. The company billed its “Climate Science Information Center,” launched in the fall of 2020, as a dedicated space where, according to the company, its users would be urged to connect with “approachable information and actionable resources.” It was Facebook’s attempt to stymie the flood of climate change disinformation on its social network with a single recommended page displaying “common climate myths” and counterpoints.

A year later, the site was an unambiguous failure, according to Facebook’s own assessments. In the U.S. alone, two-thirds of users forgot the center even existed, the documents say. And that was just the ones who’d already visited the site. Among those who had not, 83% said they were not aware it existed. Worse, surveys showed that Americans were uniquely distrustful of information when they knew that it came from Facebook.

Facebook did not respond to specific questions about the documents, instead directing Techy to a 2021 blog post about “Facebook’s Role In Empowering People With Information About The Climate Crisis.”

In our latest drop of the Facebook Papers, Techy is publishing 18 documents that shed light on the internal discussions within Facebook on climate change. The papers, only a handful of which have ever been shown to the public, include a number of candid conversations among mid- and high-level employees; researchers, managers, and engineeters with appreciably different views on the company’s moral obligations. But in one respect, there’s really no room for dispute: Facebook has proven it is a fertile ground for denialist propaganda. It is a platform through which a range of moneyed interests, whether for profit or political gain, are granted the means and opportunity to warp the public’s understanding of established scientific truths. Depending on whom you ask at Facebook, this overt manipulation is either a free speech issue, or the very definition of “opinion” now allows for disregarding findings supported by a massive body of peer-reviewed scientific literature on which there is near 100% consensus worldwide.

In internal documents published for the first time below, you’ll find figures from Facebook’s own investigations into the effectiveness of its big, public push to boost awareness around our current altered climate. The company billed its “Climate Science Information Center,” launched in the fall of 2020, as a dedicated space where, according to the company, its users would be urged to connect with “approachable information and actionable resources.” It was Facebook’s attempt to stymie the flood of climate change disinformation on its social network with a single recommended page displaying “”common climate myths and counterpoints.

A year later, the site was an unambiguous failure, according to Facebook’s own assessments. In the U.S. alone, two-thirds of users forgot the center even existed, the documents say. And that was just the ones who’d already visited the site. Among those who had not, 83% said they were not aware it existed. Worse, surveys showed that Americans were uniquely distrustful of information when they knew that it came from Facebook.

Facebook did not respond to specific questions about the documents, instead directing to a 2021 Techy  blog post about “Facebook’s Role In Empowering People With Information About The Climate Crisis.”

In our latest drop of the Facebook Papers, Gizmodo is publishing 18 documents that shed light on the internal discussions within Facebook on climate change. The papers, only a handful of which have ever been shown to the public, include a number of candid conversations among mid- and high-level employees; researchers, managers, and engineers with appreciably different views on the company’s moral obligations. But in one respect, there’s really no room for dispute: Facebook has proven it is a fertile ground for denialist propaganda. It is a platform through which a range of moneyed interests, whether for profit or political gain, are granted the means and opportunity to warp the public’s understanding of established scientific truths. Depending on whom you ask at Facebook, this overt manipulation is either a free speech issue, or the very definition of “opinion” now allows for disregarding findings supported by a massive body of peer-reviewed scientific literature on which there is near 100% consensus worldwide.

 

 

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