Climate change denial is making a ‘grim comeback’ on social media, research shows

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Meta made millions last year from ads greenwashing fossil fuel companies and spreading disinformation about climate change, according to a new report, according to a new report. And outright climate denial exploded on Twitter in 2022, according to analysis published today by a coalition of environmental groups and researchers.

They identified fossil fuel-linked entities spending about $4 million on Facebook and Instagram ads around the time of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November. Those ads belittle the clean energy transition needed to slow climate change, the report says, while portraying oil and gas companies as unlikely environmental champions. Meanwhile, the #climatescam hashtag on Twitter has seen a meteoric rise since last July.

The findings show “a stark comeback for climate denial” and “negligence of Big Tech companies that not only continue to monetize and enable, but in some cases actively recommend such content to users,” the report said. 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, but in some cases actively recommend, such content to users”

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a think tank funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that tackles extremism and disinformation, was the lead author of the report. Friends of the Earth, The University of Exeter Seda Lab and the Union of Concerned Scientists were among several other groups that contributed to the report.

It surveys 850 advertisers on Meta’s Facebook and Instagram between September 1 and November 23. That was a critical time for global climate action; world leaders had gathered at the UN climate conference in Egypt in November. The hope was that they would make stronger agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but in the end little progress was made on that front. The fossil fuel industry had sent a tidal wave of its own delegates to the negotiations — and the new report shows they also had an online presence around the time of the conference.

The Heartland Institute, a think tank attacking widely accepted climate science, ran a misleading ad in November that read, “New poll debunks 97% consensus claim on #climatechange.” Of course, there is a mountain of evidence and an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that human activity causes climate change.

Energy Citizens, a front group of the American Petroleum Institute, placed the most ads in the period studied. It was largely aimed at fueling fears that the clean energy transition threatens America’s “energy security.” On the contrary, extreme weather events – which are exacerbated by climate change – have led to more power outages in the US. And research shows that oil, gas and coal development must be phased out to prevent such climate catastrophes from reaching new levels of severity.

America’s Plastic Makers, meanwhile, spent $1.1 million on climate-related ad campaigns. It pushed the myth that recycling solves the problem of plastic waste. Plastic is actually quite difficult to reuse; only 9 percent of all plastic waste in the world is recycled. Nevertheless, the fossil fuel industry has recently tried to lean more on its plastics business to prevent clean energy from undermining its profits.

Oil and gas companies may seem to be changing their tune when it comes to acknowledging climate change, but they are still promoting narratives that could derail climate action, the report warns. It found ads from oil companies selling purported solutions to climate change. But the tactics they push, such as capturing carbon dioxide emissions from smokestacks, actually keep countries dependent on oil and gas and are no substitute for cleaner energy sources.

The new report also confirms previous investigations into the rise of climate misinformation on Twitter. The #climatescam hashtag came “out of nowhere” in July, the report says, peaking from very little engagement to hundreds of thousands of mentions by the end of the year. The term still pops up as a top suggestion on Twitter when users search for the term “climate.”

“The source of its virality is completely unclear, again highlighting the need for transparency about how and why platforms bring content to users,” the report said. Sure, since Elon Musk’s takeover, all kinds of dirty content has exploded on Twitter — from hate speech to fake accounts. Scrolling through #climatecam is often full of lies like define climate change as “the fabricated catastrophe that the globalists/socialists use to sow [sic] fear and guilt of taxing, regulating and abolishing our freedoms while pretending to save the planet.”

Why does this still matter after years of studies exposing rampant climate disinformation on social media platforms? Failing to act on content that rejects accepted science risks derailing real-world actions that could prevent climate-related disasters from getting worse.

“The situation is hugely concerning and requires a coordinated response everywhere from Big Tech to its regulators,” said Jennie King, chief of climate research and response at ISD, in a press release. “At this critical time, tackling climate disinformation is an essential part of climate action.”

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