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Facebook puts more muscle into fighting misinformation around climate change

February 18, 2021, 10:59 AM UTC

Facebook will expand an online center to counter climate misinformation, the company said Thursday, including piloting an information-labeling program in the U.K.

The Facebook-hosted Climate Science Information Center was launched in September in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany to direct viewers to information on climate change when they searched on the platform. The project was modeled on the platform’s COVID-19 Information Center.

The expansion will bring the center to 16 countries, including Canada, Nigeria, and Brazil, and nine languages, and include sections that debunk common climate misinformation, in collaboration with George Mason University, the Yale Program on Climate Communication, and the University of Cambridge. In countries where the center isn’t yet offered, viewers who search for climate-related topics will be directed to the UN Environment Program’s website, Facebook said.

Facebook has come under increasing fire for allegations that ads promoting climate denial are widespread on the site. In October, a report from InfluenceMap said that climate disinformation ads, some promoting the claim that climate change is a hoax, were viewed 8 million times in the first half of 2020.

Learning from COVID

On Thursday, Robert Traynham, director of policy communications at Facebook, said the company was committed to tackling the spread of climate disinformation.

“One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned from COVID is how powerful our platform really can be in terms of connecting people to accurate expert advice and information during a global crisis,” he said.

However, Traynham added, there is a “healthy tension” between evidence-based facts and people’s opinions, and he pointed to Facebook’s network of fact-checking organizations. The company said it does not allow advertisers to run ads that include claims that have been debunked by third-party fact checkers.

Facebook is “really in a unique position to address the issue of misinformation in society,” said Sander van der Linden, a professor of social psychology in society at the University of Cambridge, and one of the collaborators in the center.

“When information is presented, we start by telling people what the facts are, then we explain the fallacies in the misinformation, then once again, people are directed to the facts,” he explained. “It works like a truth sandwich, almost.”

The effort to counter climate misinformation is especially critical ahead of this year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, which was delayed last year because of the pandemic, said Nancy Groves, digital strategy chief for the UN Environmental Program.

“We cannot do our jobs without social media platforms like Facebook helping get these important messages out and to help surface facts to the top amidst other misinformation and communication online,” she said.

This article has been corrected to reflect that the center is available in 16 countries, 12 of which are newly announced, including Canada.