A couple weeks ago, Benjamin Woffard at WIRED revealed the depth of Republican control over Facebook, via executive Joel Kaplan, the climate-denying election stealer who has time and again protected climate deniers and election stealers from any and all internal efforts to reduce the damage those forces do while abusing the platform.
With that in mind, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Meta* was recently revealed by the Washington Post to have contracted with a GOP consulting firm to spread disinfo about TikTok and fearmonger about its Chinese ownership. Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harwell obtained internal emails that show Facebook contractor and Republican attack dog Targeted Victory’s underhanded tactics, including, for example, seeding news stories about dangerous Tik Tok trends like the “slap a teacher” challenge, when “no such challenge existed on Tik Tok.”
So not only is the company allowing (GOP) disinformation, it’s actually funding it directly!
And while Facebook claims to be cracking down on climate denial, a new report from Global Witness shows that it’s still radicalizing users and pushing disinformation to them. The set-up is simple, they created two accounts, and subscribed one (“Jane”) to a couple climate disinfo pages, and the other (“John”) to the IPCC.
A Facebook statement to Global Witness claimed, “our systems are designed to reduce misinformation, including climate misinformation, not to amplify it.”
But that’s clearly not true, as the report found that when “Jane” liked the GWPF, a UK nonprofit that had to make a spin-off because it lied too much to be an educational charity, it recommended Marc Morano’s ClimateDepot’s page, because why wouldn’t the company drive you to the page of someone who encouraged January 6-style attacks on states across the US?
With just those two clicks informing Facebook’s algorithm, the resulting recommendations didn’t show Jane any climate or energy organizations that might leave her better informed. Instead, the report found, “of the 27 pieces of content that we graded across the first three recommended climate pages, 100% of it was climate disinformation that either fell into ‘distract and delay’ or denial categories.”
The system works! Ask for harmful content, and Facebook serves it up.
They then tried again with two other pages, and Facebook recommended 18 additional pages. Only one didn’t have climate disinfo. A dozen were exclusively climate disinfo.
Global Witness researcher Mai Rosner told BBC’s Merlyn Thomas that "Facebook is not just a neutral online space where climate disinformation exists - it is quite literally putting such views in front of users' eyes.”
And it doesn’t have to!
It is certainly within the power of a company with billions of dollars at its disposal to figure out how to push people towards reputable sources instead of disinformation, huxters, and extremists. And they did it!
The same policies and programming changes to the algorithm that Facebook could use to make it harder for terrorists to use white supremacy to radicalize and recruit, would also make it less likely for young people to be bombarded with self-esteem-destroying pro-anorexia content, and would address the spread of financially-motivated industrial disinformation.
But since those changes would also make it harder for Republicans to use Facebook as an industrial-grade-propaganda tool that uses white supremacy to radicalize and recruit. Joel Kaplan killed those projects, and Meta* has since, it seems, embraced disinformation instead of trying to fight it.
*We will refer to “Meta” only to connect it firmly with the Facebook brand they’re trying to escape, apparently by doing the exact same terrible things with a shorter name.**
**We promise to limit future discussion on how we write about Meta, because no one needs more of this sort of meta- Meta statement.