Facebook is a big obstacle to averting climate catastrophe, scientists say

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“When it comes to efforts to avert catastrophic climate change, Facebook is no ally. They are an enemy.”

Those are the sobering words of leading climatologist Michael Mann in the wake of Facebook’s astonishing admission that it isn’t concerned with whether or not the information people post on the social media site is actually true.

The latest instance of Facebook doubling down on its failure to avert the spread of misinformation came after an altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) went viral on the social media platform last week. Facebook was widely criticized for refusing to take down the video — even after admitting that it had been doctored to make her look like she was slurring her words or drunk.

What was particularly shocking is that in defending this move, Facebook told the Washington Post, “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.”

Equally stunning is what Monika Bickert, the company’s head of global policy management, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday. “We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice about what to believe,” Bickert said. “Our job is to make sure that we are getting them accurate information. And that’s why we work with over 50 fact-checking organizations around the world.”

But this is just double-talk, since, as the Post reported, two of the major fact-checking organizations Facebook uses, Lead Stories and PolitiFact, have determined the video was “false.”

Facebook said that it would “heavily reduce” how often the fake video is seen in people’s newsfeeds. Also, those who click on the video now see a box labeled “Additional Reporting on This” with links to those two fact-checking sites.

But this means the doctored video can still be spread by anyone who had previously seen it. “Any user could still like, comment, view and share the video as often as they liked,” the Post noted.

This new fiasco comes just weeks after Facebook hired an arm of the conservative, anti-science media site The Daily Caller, funded in part by Charles and David Koch, to serve as the company’s newest “fact checkers.” (The Kochs, who made their fortune largely on fossil fuels and petrochemicals, have long funneled money to groups who spread misinformation on climate change.)

So, ThinkProgress asked some experts what Facebook’s latest actions mean for the national conversation on climate change.

“Facebook is complicit in spreading outright falsehoods and misinforming the public about matters of public concern,” environmental sociologist Robert Brulle wrote in an email. The company’s “refusal to take down this blatant distortion of Speaker Pelosi shows that they are an irresponsible actor, and contributing to the decline of public discourse.”

Brulle explained that Facebook’s actions are particularly disastrous since there are so many issues critical to public well-being that require an accurately informed public, such as vaccinations and climate change.

Mann, who is director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, was equally blunt. “This shows that Facebook is in fact complicit with bad actors seeking to spread disinformation throughout the internet,” he said. “We must view them now as another tool in the toolbox used by fossil fuel interests and plutocrats to confuse the public and policymakers.”

Because Facebook refuses to be a responsible actor, Brulle concluded, “Senator Elizabeth Warren is right — it is time to break up Facebook.”




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