A question was posted on an internal Facebook message board in the middle of the second-hottest October ever recorded. Climate Change Denial Policy - Policy for Misinformation
This question led to a conversation with an employee, who argued that Facebook allowing climate denial postings to go unchecked on its platform made sense since the science surrounding a particular type of ulcer once changed. This post is one of the documents that Francis Haugens whistleblower released to Gizmodo. Other outlets have also had access to it. (You can view what we have so far. It is not clear who participated in the discussion about climate change denial content. The chats reveal how inept Facebook is with climate denial. It also shows how some corners have a laissez-faire attitude towards perpetuating denial even though they are committed to net zero emissions by 2030.
These internal logs date back to 2019, one year before Facebook launched its climate science information centre page. An employee asks Facebook what it does about misinformation in the initial post.
I am writing to ask if there is a policy on Climate Change denial and specifically human involvement in climate change. This is covered by our misinformation enforcement of inform treatment and downranking. I am curious because science-based is a different way of thinking about this.
The post links to a Facebook page that copied and pasted Hal Turner's climate denial article. Turner has been called a white supremacist true-believer by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This copy-and-paste method may have been used by the employee to bypass Facebook's throttling of traffic to the post.
The query was answered by a response that Facebook does not remove misinformation unless there is strong evidence that it may cause imminent harm to people offline. However, the company does reduce misleading content and uses third party fact-checkers. One response also noted that the practice of copy-pasting links to circumvent URL enforcement is an interesting one. We haven't seen it too often before.
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People are already suffering from climate change offline. An increasing body of research on the attribution of extreme events has shown that rising greenhouse gas emissions are increasing intensity and likelihood of heavy waves, heavy rain, wildfires and other environmental calamities. For example, a study last year found that the Australian bushfires of 2019-20fires, which erupted just months after the October 2019 Facebook discussion, cost the country $1.5 million in healthcare costs. Another study found that global warming was 30% more likely to cause the weather that sparked the fires, which resulted in the deaths of at least 34 people, and 3 billion animals.
This is just one example of the real-world damage that has already been caused by the climate crisis. This is a large reason why the political system has not been able to deal with the damage. Misinformation has made it nearly impossible to take the necessary steps. This reality was acknowledged in a separate thread that appeared to be internal to 2019. It stated, "If someone uses Facebook Search to deliberately sow doubt, slow down the public response, the climate crisis is being addressed, then they are using our service for the future to jeopardize billions of lives." Are we prepared for such an attack?
Facebook allowing denial to exist and in some cases thriveon its platform is perhaps an issue of ad dollars or cents. As the October 2019 thread shows, there are some people within Facebook who like to help with the controversy. The original post was answered by:
It is problematic to consider scientific consensus the final truth in order to suppress content that does not agree with it. Sometimes scientific consensus is questioned. Not too long ago, everyone understood that stomach ulcers are caused by excess stomach acid and stress. 1954 saw the debunking of the idea that stomach ulcers were caused by microbes. We might have been under pressure to stop the spread of debunked claims by crackpots if Facebook was available at that time. We now know that stomach ulcers can be caused by bacteria. ... After many years of fighting against scientific consensus, the Nobel Prize was awarded.
My immediate reaction was to think that this is the Galileo claim by skeptics that climate deniers have made in an attempt to portray themselves as victims of authoritarian suppression. Geoffrey Supran is a Harvard researcher associate and director at Climate Accountability Communication at Climate Social Science Network. He sent an email. He then noted that the climate scientists' views are based upon decades of peer-reviewed evidence. The climate deniers' views are not.
The Hal Turner post that sparked this discussion is inaccurate. It misrepresents NASA's findings and the overwhelming evidence that humans are warming the planet through fossil fuels. Naomi Oreskes is a Harvard science historian who wrote one of the most important texts on climate denial. She also worked with Supraran. Oreskes said that Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park's author, used a similar argument to suggest that scientists have reached a consensus on eugenics. We should therefore not believe the statements they make today about climate change. In 2005, she wrote an opinion piece rebutting Crichton. This is true today in light of the Facebook conversation. She wrote that just because a group of scientists was wrong about Y decades ago does not mean that a different group today, addressing a completely different issue, is likely to be wrong now.
In 2020, the Facebook Climate Science Center was created in response to criticisms about how Facebook dealt with climate science. It provides facts on climate change, and has been updated with quizzes as well as a $1 million cash injection to improve fact-checking. It does not remove the possibility of denial.
Earther reached out to Facebook regarding this internal discussion, and its future climate policy.
Correction: 10/26/21 at 5:38 p.m. ET: This post was updated to reflect that it was not the hottest, but the second-hottest October in record time. (This ignominious title belonged to 2015 by just a few hundredthsof a degree.