Facebook Failed to Label Over 50% of Posts From Top Climate Deniers

The company promised last year it would add informational labels to some posts about the climate crisis.

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How seriously does Facebook take its climate commitments? 

The company, now known as Meta, has reached net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for its global operations and says its supply chain will be net-zero by 2030. Yet a new report from watchdog group the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) finds that its platforms are still emitting unfiltered climate denial. 

“At a very simple level, Facebook is falling short of its promises to label and tackle climate disinformation,” CCDH Chief Executive Officer Imran Ahmed tells Treehugger. 

Toxic Ten

In the wake of the 2016 election and the coronavirus pandemic, there has been increasing concern about fake news and misleading information shared via social media, as well as calls for major social media platforms like Facebook to take responsibility for their role in spreading this content. A lawsuit filed by Reporters Without Borders, for example, said Facebook violated its terms of service promising a “safe, secure and error-free environment” because it still “allows disinformation and hate speech to flourish on its networks,” The Guardian reported in 2021. 

In May of 2021, then-Facebook said it would start attaching information labels to some posts about the climate crisis in Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Nigeria, South Africa, and the U.S. and link them to its Climate Science Information Center, which would provide factual information about climate change as well as ways to take action. 

An image from Facebook about how their info labels would look like.
Facebook promised to add informational labels to some posts on climate.


However, CCDH looked at posts from the top 10 climate deniers posting on Facebook and found the company was failing to label about half of them. The posts in question came from the Toxic Ten publishers who are responsible for 69% of interactions with climate denial content on Facebook, as CCDH found in an earlier report. These publishers are Breitbart, Western Journal, Newsmax, Townhall Media, Media Research Center, The Washington Times, The Federalist Papers, Daily Wire, and Russian state media RT.com, Sputnik News, and Patriot Post.

“These are organizations that have spent a lot of money in being able to produce high quality disinformation,” Ahmed says. 

CCDH researchers used the social analytics tool NewsWhip to look at 184 climate-denying articles posted by these publishers. All of the articles in the sample had more than a million likes, comments, or shares on Facebook. They then used Meta’s CrowdTangle tool to figure out the most popular public Facebook post for each article. A total of 93 of these posts, or 50.3% of the sample, did not have an information label. The unlabeled posts also generated 541,877 interactions, which accounted for 53% of all the interactions with articles in the sample. 

Among the unlabeled posts were a Breitbart article that referred to the climate crisis as the “Global Warming Hoax” and a Daily Wire article claiming that the left was spreading “global warming alarmism.” 

Which side are you on? 

The CCDH report is not the first watchdog analysis to cast doubt on Meta’s commitment to fighting climate change. An August 2021 report from InfluenceMap, for example, found oil and gas companies and lobby groups had spent nearly $10 million on Facebook ads targeting U.S. voters during the 2020 election year. This is despite the fact that Meta has a policy banning advertisements that peddle false or misleading information, which the fossil-fuel industry has often been accused of. 

When it comes to climate action, Ahmed says Meta is caught between two conflicting motives. On the one hand, it wants to attract top talent. 

“People who are very talented don’t want to go and work for a company that is bad on environmental issues,” Ahmed explains. 

On the other hand, it costs Meta money every time it takes enforcement action against a false post or refuses a misleading ad. CCDH has spent six years tracking Meta’s responses to posts containing climate denial, vaccine conspiracy theories, identity-based hate, and international or domestic terrorism, among other issues, and found that one motive unifies the company’s actions in each case. 

“They will do the minimum possible to avoid any impact on their bottom line,” Ahmed says. 

What separates the climate-denying posts from other problematic content is that they tend to come from some of the most well-trafficked websites in the world. While hate posts are low-quality but diverse like “mom and pop stores” and anti-vaccine posts are like small and mid-size enterprises, climate-denying posts are “multinational corporations,” Ahmed says. This means they are easier to find and label, but it also means Meta stands to lose more traffic by taking enforcement action against them. 

“Facebook needs to work out whose side they’re on,” Ahmed says. “They’re either with people and the planet, or they are only on the side of polluters and their profits.” 

The will to act

In response to the CCDH report, Meta confirmed its commitment to labeling false information around climate. 

“We combat climate change misinformation by connecting people to reliable information in many languages from leading organizations through our Climate Science Center and working with a global network of independent fact checkers to review and rate content,” a Meta spokesperson told Treehugger in an email. “When they rate this content as false, we add a warning label and reduce its distribution so fewer people see it.” 

The spokesperson added that, at the time of the CCDH report, Meta had not fully rolled out its labeling program. They argued that this probably influenced the results. 

However, Ahmed challenged this explanation, noting Meta had made and intentionally publicized its labeling policy ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

“They sought to gain publicity and kudos in the runup to COP26, trying to take advantage of the news cycle to draw attention to them. And for them to say that even after that, ‘Oh no we’re still in the middle of it,’ is just unacceptable,” Ahmed says. 

Recent events also prove Meta can move quickly. After Russia invaded Ukraine last month, CCDH pointed out Facebook was failing to label 91% of posts from Russian-state-owned media about Ukraine. A little more than two weeks later, it announced Facebook was finally labeling these posts directly on the newsfeed. 

“This is not about capacity,” Ahmed says. “It’s about the will to act.” 

Ahmed thinks Meta acted so quickly in response to the Ukraine invasion because both legislators and the public have so clearly rallied around the country, to the point where failing to support Ukraine “can do enormous reputational damage.” He says similar pressure could move Meta on other issues. 

“We just need people to speak with one voice to them and say ‘This is not acceptable and you need to change,’” he says. 

For concerned Meta users, this doesn’t mean you have to delete your Facebook account. Ahmed suggests two actions:

  1. Contact your favorite brands and ask them if they advertise on Facebook and if they know that Facebook spreads climate denial.
  2. Contact Meta with the report via email, mail, or social media and ask them why they haven’t taken action.

Ultimately, Ahmed would like to see Meta consistently enforce its labeling policy and then deplatform repeat offenders. 

“If you have community standards, and if you don’t enforce them, they’re not community standards, they’re just a wish list,” he says.