Tackling the Spread of Disinformation

Tackling the Spread of Disinformation

Tackling the Spread of Disinformation

At Friends of the Earth, we approach fighting the climate crisis in several ways — from advocating for a transition to clean energy to targeting the financial institutions that fund climate destruction. But ultimately, if the general public is misinformed on why this work is necessary, our impact is limited. That’s why we began addressing the dangerous spread of climate disinformation — the intentional spread of false narratives in order to sway the public on solutions to climate change. 

We noticed a spike of climate disinformation spreading through social media ads prior and during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP). During COP 27, FOE took part in a disinformation “intelligence unit” to monitor climate disinformation narratives. One analysis found that around the time of COP, 3,781 ads on Meta spread greenwashed lies about fossil fuels. 

Our reports and research urged Big Tech to crack down and restrict these kinds of ads on their platforms. But we also work to stop the spread of climate lies spreading through ‘organic’ unpaid content. This content has become more and more prevalent on polarizing issues such as Covid-19 and election fraud. In fact, on Twitter, misinformation was 70% more likely to be retweeted than tweets with factual information. On TikTok, videos denying that climate change is driven by human activities have been viewed over 30 million times. It’s to no one’s surprise that the fossil fuel industry has poured millions of dollars into spreading lies and misleading information to keep the public in support of its destruction.

To hold these platforms accountable for allowing these violations, we launched the Social Media Scorecard in April 2022 to pressure social media companies and Congress to tackle climate disinformation. We also leveraged the power of our members to get involved. And they did! More than 92,000 members signed petitions demanding that CEOs of Big Tech companies tackle oil and gas propaganda on their platforms.  

Since then, Pinterest adopted a robust policy for climate dis/misinformation in both organic content and ads. And just days after our scorecard placed Twitter last on our scorecard, the platform adopted a new policy to promote credible information on climate science. The policy also prohibited ads that contradict climate science. And in April 2023, TikTok announced that it would be overhauling its community guidelines and would include climate mis/disinformation in its misinformation policies.

Our work with the Climate Action Against Disinformation Coalition (CAAD) has also spearheaded research on climate disinformation in non-English languages, which can be even more prevalent and unregulated than English disinformation. For example, our analysis found rampant misinformation around online discussions of extreme weather events in Brazil, Chile, and Peru. 

The CAAD coalition is leading the way in analyzing and lobbying against these crises. And fortunately, our efforts have helped shape the policies that Big Tech companies have in place to regulate the spread of false and misleading information. We will not stop until these companies take accountability for their role in the spread of dangerous narratives about climate change. Every other industry — from food production to car manufacturers to airlines — has to report about the safety of its products. So why should tech companies be any different? Together, we can promote truthful information and inspire robust action to protect our planet.

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