Yesterday Facebook announced “several new measures” for its users to “have access to reliable information while reducing misinformation,” which certainly sounds good. Unfortunately, a new report from Friends of the Earth found Facebook’s factchecking is only catching less than 1% of the disinformation on the platform.
Which is why it’s so disappointing that none of the steps Facebook announced actually do anything, at all, to reduce the misinformation and, worse, disinformation, that’s rampant on the platform. They don’t even try to address the problem. Instead, all they’re doing is revamping the page of accurate climate information they have by adding “new features, like quizzes” and additional new information, doing a video series on youth climate advocates (which is good, but doesn’t address disinformation) and giving their fact check network an whole one million dollars to grant out to “organizations working to combat climate misinformation.”
Now sure, a million dollars sounds like a lot, but a million bucks is literally one fifth of what just one oil company, ExxonMobil, gave to Facebook for ads last year alone. Overall, a recent InfluenceMap report found, just 25 top oil and gas advertisers spent nearly $10 million on Facebook ads in 2020, which were seen hundreds of millions of times. As InfluenceMap’s Faye Holder said in a press release, “Facebook often talks about its commitment to tackling climate change, but it continues to allow its platform to be used by the fossil fuel sector to undermine science-based climate action.”
These token measures, Sean Buchan of Stop Funding Heat said, “are insufficient and not based upon the evidence. We are disappointed that Facebook is not following the latest climate communication science, nor several reports written about climate misinformation on their platform this year … Facebook, ironically, seem to remain in denial.”
If Facebook really cared about not showing its users climate disinformation, it could start by not profiting from climate disinformation its fossil fuel advertisers pay for instead of giving a fraction of that money to third-party factcheckers to do the work Facebook should be doing.
But it gets worse! Because even when content is factchecked, that doesn’t mean users see less of it. In fact, Media Matters has found that when Facebook put labels on Donald Trump’s disinformation, those posts actually got twice as many interactions as the overall average.
So Facebook content that does get factchecked doesn’t even get removed, and instead can actually be more popular than non-labeled content. But that’s just what gets factchecked, which is only a tiny fraction of the disinformation on the platform. According to the Friends of the Earth report released yesterday, during the Texas blackouts earlier this year 99.1% of the windmill-blaming lies on the platform were allowed to spread unchecked. While most of the popular posts of the actual images of a frozen wind turbine (originally taken in Sweden years ago) did get a label, the ensuing Fox News disinformation campaign that sprang forth, blaming the blackouts on frozen wind turbines instead of the actual gas culprit, was allowed to spread far and wide, without consequence.
If Facebook’s fact checking program is only catching less than 1% of the false content, it makes sense that they’d try and beef it up with a chunk of cash.
But what would make even more sense is if it actually respected the resulting factchecks, instead of essentially exempting anyone who complains about it, as the Wall Street Journal recently revealed is common practice. The outlet got a hold of a tranche of internal Facebook documents that reveal the company knows full well about a variety of problems it’s causing but leadership refuses to act on.
For example, the documents reveal that even as Facebook touted out its factchecking work publicly, “in private, the company has built a system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules,” wrote Jeff Horwitz. The program is referred to as “XCheck or “cross check”, and the documents reveal how “it shields millions of VIP users from the company’s normal enforcement process,” creating a “whitelist” of users that are “rendered immune from enforcement actions'' or who “are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.”
Surely there’s a better way! As Imran Ahmed of the Center for Countering Digital Hate said in a statement, “as with anti-vaccine misinformation, this problem requires comprehensive action to tackle superspreaders of misinformation and for the playing field to no longer be titled towards controversial misinformation which benefits from the amplification of both negative and positive engagement.
Or more concisely, as Michael Khoo of Friends of the Earth told Molly Taft, he’s “a big fan of deplatforming known liars. You get rid of the liars, and guess what, you have fewer lies.”
Turns out the one thing Silicon Valley can’t bring itself to disrupt is the disinformation industry, and the flow of cash it brings.