A new investigation has revealed that climate sceptic Facebook users are being driven towards more extreme forms of disinformation by algorithms, despite the social media giant’s claims of a crackdown.
By simulating the user experience of an individual liking pages such as “Net Zero Watch”, an organisation countering climate policies, Global Witness found that it was immediately met with a recommendation of “Climate Depot”, a US based outlet run by Marc Morano and part of CFACT, a group that calls human-induced climate change “a myth”.
In an overwhelming majority of cases a similar pattern continued, leading the user to see content that included claims that climate change is a hoax, described the UN as an “authoritarian regime” that has less credibility than “Bugs Bunny” and accused the “green movement” of “enslaving humanity”.
In total, 18 pages were recommended in the process of the human rights organisation’s simulation, with only one not containing any climate disinformation. Two thirds of the pages were exclusively dedicated to climate disinformation.
The findings come despite Facebook promising to stamp out climate disinformation on its platform, having set up a “climate science centre” designed to “connect people with science-based information on climate change”.
Responding to the investigation, Facebook told Global Witness that “for several months after we announced the initial experiment of informational labels in the UK, we did not completely roll out our labelling program.”
The findings also come on the day the communications regulator Ofcom warned that almost one in three UK internet users are unaware that online content may be false or biased.
In a statement shared with City A.M., a Meta spokesperson said:“Our systems are designed to reduce misinformation, including climate misinformation, not to amplify it. We use a combination of artificial intelligence, human review, and input from partners – including fact checkers – to address problematic content.”
” 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. When they rate this content as false, we add a warning label and reduce its distribution so fewer people see it.
“Pages, Groups, and accounts that continue to share false claims are not recommended to people , their content will feature lower in News Feed and notifications are limited so fewer people see their posts.”
However, Digital Threats to Democracy Campaigner at Global Witness Mai Rosner said: “Facebook has repeatedly said it wants to combat climate disinformation on its platform, but our investigation shows how worryingly easy it is for its users to be led down a dangerous path that flies in the face of both science and reality.
“Facebook is not just a neutral online space where climate disinformation exists; it is quite literally putting such views in front of users eyes.”
Despite stating that the destruction of the planet was “not up for debate”, Rosner said the climate crisis is becoming “the new culture war”.
She added that Big Tech have a responsibility not to propagate climate disinformation.