Meta made millions last year from ads that greenwash fossil fuel companies and spread disinformation about climate change, according to a new report. And outright climate denial exploded on Twitter in 2022, according to analysis released today by a coalition of environmental groups and researchers.
They identified fossil fuel-related companies spending about $4 million on Facebook and Instagram ads at the time of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November. These ads denigrate the clean energy transition needed to slow climate change, the report says, while portraying oil and gas companies as unlikely environmental champions. On Twitter, the hashtag #climatescam has experienced a meteoric rise since last July.
The findings show “a blatant comeback of climate denial” and “negligence by big tech companies that not only continue to monetize and enable such content, but in some cases actively recommend it to users,” the report states. Neither Meta nor Facebook responded to a request for comment from The edge.
“Negligence of big tech companies that not only continue to monetize and enable such content, but in some cases actively recommend it to users”
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded think tank that studies extremism and disinformation, was the report’s lead author. Friends of the Earth, the University of Exeter’s Seda Lab and the Union of Concerned Scientists were among several other groups that contributed to the report.
It examines 850 advertisers on Meta’s Facebook and Instagram between September 1st and November 23rd. This was a critical time for global climate protection; World leaders gathered at the UN climate conference in Egypt in November. The hope was that they would come up with tougher deals to cut greenhouse gas emissions – but ultimately little progress was made on that front. The fossil fuel industry had sent a flood of their own delegates to the negotiations – and the new report shows they were also heavily represented online at the time of the conference.
The Heartland Institute, a think tank attacking mainstream climate science, ran a misleading ad in November stating, “New poll debunks 97% consensus claim on #climatechange.” Of course, there’s a mountain of evidence and an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that human activities cause climate change.
Energy Citizens, a cover group for the American Petroleum Institute, ran the most ads during the period studied. It focused primarily on stoking fears that the clean energy transition threatens America’s “energy security.” On the contrary, extreme weather events – exacerbated by climate change – have led to more power outages in the US. And research shows that to prevent such climate catastrophes from reaching new levels of severity, oil, gas and coal production must be phased out.
Meanwhile, American plastics manufacturers spent $1.1 million on climate-related advertising campaigns. It spread the myth that recycling will solve the plastic waste problem. Plastic is actually pretty hard to recycle; only 9 percent of all plastic waste in the world is recycled. Still, the fossil fuel industry has recently attempted to lean more heavily on its plastics business to insure against a reduction in its profits from clean energy.
Oil and gas companies appear to be changing their stance when it comes to acknowledging climate change — but they’re still promoting narratives that could derail climate action, the report warns. Ads were found from oil companies selling alleged solutions to climate change. But the tactics they are pushing, like capturing carbon emissions from smokestacks, actually keep countries dependent on oil and gas and are not substitutes for cleaner energy sources.
The new report also confirms previous studies of the rise of climate misinformation on Twitter. The hashtag #climatescam “came out of nowhere” in July, the report says, going from very little engagement to hundreds of thousands of mentions by the end of the year. The term still appears as a top suggestion on Twitter when users search for the term “climate.”
“The source of its virality is completely unclear, underscoring once again the need for transparency about how and why platforms are showing content to users,” the report said. Sure, since Elon Musk’s takeover, all manner of objectionable content has exploded on Twitter — from hate speech to fake accounts. Scrolling through #climatescam is often full of lies like define climate change as “the contrived catastrophe that the globalists/socialists use to usher in [sic] Fear and guilt to tax, regulate and remove our freedoms while pretending to save the planet.”
After years of studies exposing widespread climate misinformation on social media platforms, why does this still matter? Failure to act on content that rejects commonly accepted scientific evidence risks derailing real-world actions that could prevent climate-related disasters from worsening.
“The situation is extremely concerning and requires a coordinated response everywhere, from big tech to their regulators,” Jennie King, director of climate research and response at ISD, said in a press release. “At this crucial juncture, tackling climate disinformation is an essential part of climate action.”