Facebook's Algorithm Boosts Climate Disinformation
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Facebook’s Algorithm Boosts Climate Disinformation – A Study By Global Witness

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Facebook is once again in the news for spreading false information as per a recent report. Global Witness is a London based NGO, they reported in a recent study that Facebook’s algorithm recommended content that denied the existence of man-made climate warming and attacked measures aimed at mitigating the climate crisis. 

The CCDH published a report in November finding that 10 publishers, labeled “The Toxic Ten,” were responsible for up to 69% of all interactions with climate denial content on Facebook. A report published by NPR reported that Researchers used the social analytics tool NewsWhip to assess 184 articles containing false information about climate change, published by “The Toxic Ten” and posted on Facebook, where they collectively accumulated more than 1 million interactions. 

They found that 50.5% of the most popular posts associated with articles in the sample did not have labels. Those 93 articles had 541,877 Facebook interactions, which researchers say amounts to 53% of total interactions with articles in the sample. It highlighted several examples in a press release, including a NewsBusters article referring to “alarmist climate propaganda” and a Daily Wire piece claiming “the Left is spreading global warming alarmism.”

By design Facebook encourages users to maximize the time they spend on the platform by incentivizing them to keep scrolling, liking, and sharing content. The motive that drives this design is profit: the longer a user stays on Facebook, the more ads they can show that user, thus generating more revenue. All the while, Facebook is able to amass ever more specific data-points about that user and use it to sell better targeted advertising. 

A spokesman for Facebook took issue with the methodology of the study, suggesting not all posts flagged in the report represented disinformation. “We’re focused on reducing actual climate misinformation on our platform, which is why we partner with a global network of fact checkers and reduce the distribution of anything they rate as false or misleading and reject any ads that have been debunked,” he said.

Facebook launched its Climate Science Center last fall in an effort to provide users with authoritative, reliable information about climate change and climate science. As the Cop 26 climate summit continues, activists are calling on the US Congress, the UK parliament and the EU parliament to pass legislation targeting Facebook’s massive power in light of its inability to stem climate misinformation.  

The Guardian reported that there were several involvement of various politicians to spread the political agenda. Those that were not “single issue” groups included pages from figures like the rightwing politician Marjorie Taylor Greene, which posted misleading articles and disinformation about the climate crisis.

Zuckerberg explained that policy to lawmakers in a March hearing. “We divide the misinformation into things that could cause imminent physical harm, of which Covid misinformation that might lead someone to get sick … falls in the category of imminent physical harm, and we take down that content. And then other misinformation are things that are false but may not lead to imminent physical harm, we label and reduce their distribution but leave them up,” he said. However, environmental advocates say climate change does indeed present imminent threats to safety.

Aryaa Gavai

Aryaa is a third year BMM student who loves to write - stories, articles, poems and content that makes people more informative and aware and eager to learn new things.

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