Climate Misinformation & Inaction by Social Media Platforms

Social media platform hesitate to act on climate misinformation

Climate change denial on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok is "as bad as ever," according to Michael Mann, the director of Penn State University's Earth System Science Center and author of The New Climate War. And climate scientists say they're frustrated by inaction -- especially from social media platforms to identify, flag, and take down misinformation posts.

Why This Matters

In a world where polarized viewpoints and misinformation are shared rampantly on social media, experts say the platforms are perpetuating a "culture war" that fractures trust in science and the government, and tries to "paint people concerned about climate change as belonging to some separate social group intent on impinging on people's freedoms." According to John Cook, a research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University, "This is a particularly damaging form of misinformation as it exacerbates public polarization on climate change, making progress more difficult."

Analysts have also found that when science is politicized, the public loses massive amounts of trust in the federal government.

Al Jazeera: How dangerous is climate misinformation?, April 22, 2021.

On Social Media

What's being done? That depends on who you ask. Facebook added information labels on posts about climate change to direct users to its Climate Science Center, and YouTube stopped running ads denying climate change. But according to USA Today, follow-through has been sporadic and lacking. Many climate denial Facebook posts and YouTube videos prone to misinformation are still missing labels. And on TikTok, a number of videos considered "misinformative" were not only missing labels -- they have generated millions of views.

Netflix: The Social Dilemma (Official Trailer), August 27, 2020.

Beyond Social Media

Misinformation is everywhere. A recent Front Lines article reports that fossil fuel companies buy Google keywords to target users seeking climate information. Similar tactics have been deployed by Big Oil on social media. Even "news outlets" are guilty of spreading misinformation. Fox News, for example, reported the false rumor that President Biden wanted to ban burgers.

While some measures have been put in place to stop the spread of fake news, not all are effective. Last year, Twitter added a new climate topic to direct users to credible information on climate change, but climate change denial terms such as "climate fraud," "climate change hoax," and "climate cult" actually increased after its implementation.

Reuters: Apple CEO slams social media in Facebook fight, January 28, 2021.