December 4, 2021

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Google, Meta, Among Tech Giants Urged To Adopt Definition Of Climate Disinformation And Misinformation

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Major tech companies including Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest and Reddit were asked to adopt a shared definition of climate disinformation and misinformation to clamp down on content and ads that seek to undermine facts about climate change.

An open letter initiated by the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) demands that COP26 leaders and social media platforms adopt a clear, universal definition of what constitutes climate disinformation and misinformation to identify it and tackle it. It has gathered so far more than 250 signatures from individuals and brands such as Ben and Jerry’s and Virgin Media O2.

On top of the adoption of a definition, the letter asks for the addition of “action against climate dis/misinformation” in the COP26 negotiated outcome and that tech companies develop policies to tackle climate dis/misinformation across content, algorithms and advertising in a similar way as what’s been done with matters related to Covid-19.

Google is already on board with CAN. In October, the tech giant announced a new policy prohibiting ads for, and monetization of, “content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.” 

The proposed definition of climate disinformation and misinformation goes further:

“Climate disinformation and misinformation refers to deceptive or misleading content that:  

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  • Undermines the existence or impacts of climate change, the unequivocal human influence on climate change, and the need for corresponding urgent action according to the IPCC scientific consensus and in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement;
  • Misrepresents scientific data, including by omission or cherry-picking, in order to erode trust in climate science, climate-focused institutions, experts, and solutions; or
  • Falsely publicizes efforts as supportive of climate goals that in fact contribute to climate warming or contravene the scientific consensus on mitigation or adaptation.”

Social media platforms are significant sources of climate information. In the U.K., a recent survey of 2,000 adults conducted on behalf of vegan butter brand Flora Plant Spreadable found that nearly a quarter (24%) of all citizens use Facebook to get information about climate change. That percentage increases among young people—over a third (37%) of 18-34-year-olds turn to Instagram as a reliable source for educating themselves on climate change, followed by Facebook (34%), TikTok (28%) and Twitter (24%).

The CAN letter specifically points to examples of climate misinformation found on Facebook, quoting a study from the campaigning group Stop Funding Hate indicating that climate misinformation posted on the platform receives “an estimated range of 818,000 and 1.36 million daily views” compared to the 100,000 daily users Facebook records visiting its Climate Science Centre, which is meant to offer science-based information on climate change from a limited range of vetted sources.

Meta, the social media giant’s new name, released earlier this month a note from its VP of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg dedicated to showing the company’s commitment to fighting climate change. On the topic of climate misinformation, Clegg said climate change-related content is subject to fact-checking from Meta’s partner fact-checkers. “When they rate content as false, we reduce its distribution so fewer people see it and we show a warning label with more context. And we apply penalties to people who repeatedly share false information,” Clegg wrote. Facebook says 95% of the time people don’t click to view a post that features a warning label.

Critics protest that the company could be more transparent in the way the fact-checking progress works, and campaigners against misinformation have also demanded that Facebook shares its internal research on how climate misinformation spreads on the platform and enforce a ban on climate misinformation in paid advertising on the platform.

Meta was approached for comment on this story.

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