Climate denial ads on Facebook seen by millions, report finds

The ads included calling climate change a hoax and were paid for by conservative US groups

By Damian Carrington
8 Oct 2020

Adverts on Facebook denying the reality of the climate crisis or the need for action were viewed at least 8 million times in the US in the first half of 2020, a thinktank has found.

The 51 climate disinformation ads identified included ones stating that climate change is a hoax and that fossil fuels are not an existential threat. The ads were paid for by conservative groups whose sources of funding are opaque, according to a report by InfluenceMap.

Last month Facebook said it was “committed to tackling climate misinformation” as it announced a climate science information centre. It said: “Climate change is real. The science is unambiguous and the need to act grows more urgent by the day.”

Facebook uses factcheckers and bans false advertising but also says this process “is not meant to interfere with individual expression, opinions and debate”. Some of the ads were still running on 1 October. The ads cost just $42,000 to run and appear to be highly targeted, with men over the age of 55 in rural US states most likely to see them.

The Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren said: “InfluenceMap’s devastating report reveals how Facebook lets climate deniers spread dangerous junk to millions of people. We have repeatedly asked Facebook to close the loopholes that allow misinformation to run rampant on its platform, but its leadership would rather make a quick buck while our planet burns and communities – disproportionately black and brown – suffer. Facebook must be held accountable for its role in the climate crisis.”

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Warren and other senators wrote to Facebook in July calling on it to close the loopholes.

Facebook’s former director of sustainability Bill Weihl, now at the NGO ClimateVoice, said: “Calling out the climate misinformation issue on Facebook is crucial because the company’s limited attempts to deal with the problem are failing to keep pace with powerful tactics like micro-targeting.”

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