No one is giving Facebook awards for the quality and accuracy of content on its platform. So when it announced last year that they’re “expanding our information labels to some posts about climate change,” no one thought that would be the end of the problem. After all, just slapping a link to accurate climate info, as Facebook claimed it started, hardly prevents people from being exposed to false information.
Fact checking, on the other hand, does reduce people’s susceptibility to believing false things, according to a newly published study on the efficacy of fact checking in a (fake) Facebook news feed, using real examples and fact checks. The researchers found (per a preprint full text) that warning users that a post contained false information and then showing them a fact check made them much less likely to continue believing the lies.
Which is great, because it means that if Facebook can simply warn users about the false content the algorithm they program and also show users the fact check, a key breeding ground for disinformation could be stamped out.
Unfortunately, Facebook is failing to provide even a meager link to its climate info center on half of the climate disinfo posts from its biggest deniers, according to new findings from the Center for Countering Digital Hate. They looked at 184 posts from the Toxic Ten climate disinfo super-spreaders responsible for 69% of Facebook’s climate denial, and found half of the posts didn’t even have the link to the climate information center.
Half! Only half got the most measly misinformation measure, an unobtrusive link to climate info.
What’s worse, only one (1) of the posts had the fact check label - the thing that has been shown to be effective at neutralizing false content - meaning the overwhelming majority of content that Facebook knows is climate disinformation is spread unchecked by Facebook’s algorithm: these posts were liked, commented or shared over a million times.
“The price of Mark Zuckerberg’s failure to deal with his platforms’ pollution of the information ecosystem is catastrophic damage to our physical ecosystem—including climate change, forced migration, drought and famine”, Center for Countering Digital Hate CEO Imran Ahmed said in a press release.
And it’s not just gross greenwashing ads or toxic Russian state media and Breitbart-esque hate and disinfo peddlers Facebook is enabling. Sometimes, the hate, discontent and disinformation is at the local level, spurred by fossil fuel advocates attacking renewables.
Case in point, Robert Bryce recently tweeted a short AP story from Iowa, describing how opposition to a wind farm has mobilized- “more than 850 people have joined a Facebook group titled ‘Say NO to the Silver Creek Wind Farm.”
As an excellent and likely overlooked Buzzfeed investigation explored late last year, communities all over the country are using Facebook to organize against wind farms. Or at least, that’s what they want it to look like. In reality, agents of dirty industry like Bryce are seeding local political fights against renewable energy by hyping fake health harms from turbines.
As a result of Facebook’s fine-tuned ability to bring out the worst in people, small towns are now roiled in the same hateful fights Fox News brings to the national level, in what researchers term “corrosive communities.”
The Buzzfeed article summarizes one study, showing that Facebook was “highly effective at two things: building social connections among anti-wind groups around the country, and contributing to erosion of social bonds within the local communities themselves. In other words, not only did the Facebook pages themselves have these corrosive characteristics, but the people in them also appeared to be spreading these characteristics into their physical communities.”
While Facebook promotes its climate information center as a counter to the disinformation rampant on its pages, it’s failing to even slap that link on half of the most high-profile climate disinfo they’ve been warned about before. And while it defends its democracy-breaking impacts by claiming to be great for communities, in reality it just brings its corrosive online attributes into the real world, causing real harm.
So what’s it good for, then?