Social media platforms need to take more serious action against preventing the spread of climate misinformation. The rise of social media has been paralleled by the rise of the climate crisis.
Misinformation about climate change isn’t monitored as strictly as other political conspiracies such as COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, or hate speech. All of these issues deserve and demand equal urgency and scrutiny as they all have the potential to cause harm to people and the environment alike. Much of this misinformation has occurred on Facebook; under their guidelines, climate misinformation can be considered opinion content. With this distinction, opinion content is exempt from fact-checking. This allows much more climate misinformation to circulate, pushing more misinformation onto social media platforms.
Facebook has had a history of issues with the spread of misinformation, particularly with the 2020 Presidential Election. Facebook did one thing right, but not for long. The company had established a “civic integrity group” that would oversee and combat misinformation and hate speech and was primarily targeted at eliminating election misinformation. However, soon after the election, this group was dismantled. There was no reason for the company to dismantle such a group whose goal was to make the platform a safer place for its users. The dismantling of this group led to many employees leaving the company, as they did not believe it was the right decision and thought Facebook should be taking its responsibility of creating a safe space more seriously. Facebook has the capacity to combat misinformation and this group proved to be successful in their efforts, so dismantling this group demonstrated their decision against taking action against climate misinformation and greenwashing.
Rather than taking action against misinformation, social media platforms tend to add warning labels or push the posts lower in the algorithm. Harsher measures may be taken, such as removing the post or suspending creators from posting for a certain amount of time, however, the posts are still engaged with and perpetuate harm because a user can simply make a new account or may not be suspended indefinitely. Once the suspension ends, they’ll go right back to posting the same content.
Employees, such as whistleblower Frances Haugen, are dissatisfied with Facebook’s lack of action. Facebook seems to refuse to remove posts about climate change denial or discrediting scientific evidence, but this does not fall into the opinion category. So why is Facebook allowing this content to continue to circulate? In response to other company’s steps towards limiting misinformation, Facebook announced that starting next year, climate change and global warming will be added to the list of topics that can “no longer be used by marketers to target advertising.” This is a positive step, but it’s rather small and until Facebook implements this policy, there’s no way to tell how harshly Facebook will enforce or regulate it.
Social media is a powerful tool and a place where people go to get information quickly and easily. Young people are easily impressionable and therefore vulnerable to misinformation. This is where some of the harm in not removing misinformation lies. As we have seen, social media is not the best source of information and news because of this limited fact-checking, however, our lives are ever-increasingly involved with the internet and technology, so social media often proves to be the easiest and most accessible source of information to many.
Our world is also ever-changing due to human activities that impact and destroy the environment. Social media platforms should only allow for factual information regarding the environment, climate change, and the reality of humanity’s impact on the planet. Facebook has proven that it has the resources and capacity to restrict misinformation, so it should use these to take steps towards protecting and promoting the environment.