Facebook really wants you to think it’s a climate champion. Its sustainability page even says it wants to “have a positive impact on the world.”
But “despite Facebook's public support for climate action,” Facebook’s former sustainability director Bill Weihl told Scott Waldman at E&E News, “it continues to allow its platform to be used to spread fossil fuel propaganda.”
That’s the short version of a new report from InfluenceMap that analyzed over 25,000 Facebook ads placed by the fossil fuel industry in 2020. ExxonMobil was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest spender with over $5 million in social, election and political ads, while the American Petroleum Institute came in second at just under $3 million. They were largely targeting Texas, buying some 54 million views there, followed by Alaska at 34 million views, which is really saying something because the entire population of Alaska is only around 700,000 people so either everyone watched one of these ads like fifty times or something’s wrong with Facebook’s ad metrics. (Oh right.)
And what sort of messages were these ads filled with? About half were dedicated to pushing the lie that the oil and gas industry are climate saviors and were targeted particularly at women, while a third went with the 'status quo' argument, that oil and gas are critical to your everyday life (targeted at the older demographic, naturally). The industry’s economic benefits were played up in 22% of the ads, while patriotism was played up in the remaining 12% with phrases like “energy independence.”
As Exxon disinformation researcher Geoffrey Supran told Hiroko Tabuchi for the New York Times, “over the past decade or so, the industry has gradually shifted from outright disinformation about climate science to more subtle and insidious messaging” that “work to muddy the waters to the same end — which is to stop action on climate change.”
“Media and communication platforms need to stop being used,” he said. “They need to stop being pawns of fossil fuel propaganda and to protect the public.”
And propaganda is certainly an apt word, as these messages had a very specific political purpose. The analysts found that the day after then-candidate Biden revealed a $2 Trillion climate plan, Big Oil ramped up its spending from about $10,000 a day to $90,000 a day. They pretty much continued that pace until the election, at which point they dropped back down again.
While the New York Times and Guardian, like E&E, cover that point explicitly, the InfluenceMap graph showing it is really incredibly striking and worth checking out in the report.
Now, some kind-hearted, free-speech-loving or PR-inclined folks otherwise thoroughly committed to climate action might think criticizing a platform for the content of its advertisers is unfair, because advertising services should not get to determine what their clients say. And after all, environmentalists are free to advertise whatever they want, right? What’s stopping them from running ads exposing the deception of Big Oil’s ads?
Advertisers are, apparently. Emily Atkin reported for her HEATED newsletter this week that major advertiser Clear Channel (which also goes by iHeartMedia) rejected ads from climate groups that simply said the oil and gas industry is “putting profits over people” and directing people to polluters.exposed to learn about API. They told Climate Power that they “aren’t comfortable running that.”
Apparently the truth was too much for Clear Channel, despite the fact that they definitely run ads from denial groups that point to disinformation, as Atkin just so happened to have a picture of a denial billboard from last March exploiting the blackouts to attack renewable energy.
ClearChannel’s logo is quite clear on the billboard.