Feb 18, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Facebook expands program to fight climate lies

Illustration of the earth with a long Pinocchio nose

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Facebook is expanding the geographic reach of its recently launched online portal to counter misinformation about climate change, and will take new steps to steer users of the platform toward those resources.

Why it matters: Social media platforms have immense reach, and they've come under fire from activists and some lawmakers globally for doing too little to thwart the spread of inaccurate content.

Driving the news: Facebook Thursday morning unveiled several changes to the Climate Science Information Center it first launched in September. The platform steers users to the site when they search for climate-related terms. Changes and additions include...

  • Making it available to Facebook users in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, and Taiwan. It initially launched in the U.S., U.K., Germany and France.
  • Where it's not available, Facebook is directing users to the UN Environment Programme.
  • The site has added a section aimed at debunking specific myths about climate change crafted in consultation with experts from Yale, George Mason and the University of Cambridge.
  • Facebook is beginning a program in the U.K., which it plans to expand, that starts adding labels to some user posts on climate that steer them to the Center.

What they're saying: “We want to expose people to information that helps them interpret and react to common myths around climate change they may encounter,” Edward Palmieri, Facebook’s sustainability director, tells Axios.

  • John Cook, a George Mason University expert in climate communication working with Facebook, said research shows that simply saying information is wrong is not enough.
  • “You also have to explain why or how it is wrong. That is important from a psychological point of view,” Cook said of the new “myth-busting” section of the climate portal.

But, but, but: It's unclear how the new efforts will sit with climate activists who say the social media behemoth should go further by outright thwarting posts from organizations that deny human-driven climate change.

  • Facebook officials, for their part, note that they have a fact-checking initiative that runs in parallel to the online portal, and take steps to label and limit distribution of posts with misinformation without nixing them outright.

Our thought bubble: It's comparatively easy to put up an information center on a highly charged topic, notes Axios' chief technology correspondent Ina Fried. But the harder and more important work is preventing misinformation, something that Facebook has struggled to do on many issues.

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