Facebook said on Thursday it will expand its Climate Information Center and direct its users to experts to debunk myths and hoaxes in an intense effort to combat disinformation.
The social media giant said it has added a section to its climate center that displays “facts that debunk common climate myths.”
Users might find, for example, information about the relationship between global warming and the loss of polar bears or an explanation of the cost of renewable energies.
“Besides expanding the center, we are improving it. We have added a section with facts that debunk common climate myths.”
This includes combating uncertainties about climate change, which has been accelerated by the spread of high-profile personalities.
Among them is former President Donald Trump, who in January 2019 posted on Twitter about record low temperatures in the American Midwest.
“What the hell is going on with global warming? Please come back quickly, we need you!” She tweeted.
And this week, misinformation circulated about the Texas winter storm energy crisis.
“There was a viral meme that showed an old photo of a helicopter from Sweden with a false claim that it was using chemicals from fossil fuels to wind turbines in Texas,” said Nicky Forster of Science Feedback, a non-governmental organization that fights medical and environmental misinformation.
“Misinformation creates confusion about what is true and what is not true among the majority of people who are not strong advocates of actions or deniers of reality,” Forrester said.
‘A proactive approach’
This explains some of the damage caused by misinformation on an issue like climate change, as environmental policies are unlikely to be implemented without broad support from the public.
Authorities, social networks, and other organizations have recently devoted more efforts to striking the right balance to combat disinformation.
“What we learned from 2020 is that it can no longer be some kind of elite-led information display system,” said Rory Smith, an analyst at First Draft, an anti-disinformation NGO, calling for a more “proactive approach.”
Smith said, “Because once someone sees a misleading message or a piece of misinformation that actually confirms their bias, they (fact-check) should undo that damage … after the fact.”
Facebook has been accused for years of being too lenient in moderation of problematic content, including false rumors and conspiracy theories, while on the other hand, it is quickly removing content that pisses off advertisers, such as pornography.
The social giant insisted it would not position itself as the arbiter of truth – before gradually changing its tune in the face of growing protest by watchdogs and elected officials.
Next month, the head of the social network, Mark Zuckerberg – along with his counterparts at Twitter and Google – will testify before Congress about the spread of disinformation on their platforms, the congressional committees responsible for the session said Thursday.
“For too long, the large technology companies have failed to acknowledge the role they have played in sparking and submitting blatantly false information to their online audiences,” the committee chairs said in a statement.
The Facebook Science Center will draw on climate communications experts from George Mason University, the Yale Climate Change Communication Program, and the University of Cambridge.
The launch of the Climate Information Center in September stemmed from Facebook’s efforts to provide users with reliable information about the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 US elections.
The information center is already available in France, Germany, Britain and the United States, and is expanding to include Belgium, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa and Taiwan.
“We are already directing people to the Climate Science Information Center when they search for terminology related to climate and we will continue to do so where the center is available. In countries where this is not there, we will soon direct people to the United Nations Environment Program, which is a leading global environmental body.”
This initiative is welcome for advocates of climate information, but it may not be sufficient to fully address the large and amorphous controversy already deeply embedded in most of the Internet.
In particular, Smith called for more research into the effectiveness of misinformation warnings and the way in which facts are presented as infallible.
For some people, seeing allegations debunked “could have the opposite effect of further cementing what they already believe,” he said.