Friends of Earth Issues White Paper Entitled 'Truth and Lies: Four Days of Texas-Sized Disinformation'
- Sep 24, 2021 4:58 pm GMT
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The fossil fuel industry has spent millions over decades to sow doubt and prevent action on the climate crisis. This narrative campaign largely failed to sow doubt, as it is no longer credible to deny climate change entirely, and most Americans are demanding action on the issue./1
However, social media companies have given the fossil fuel industry's public relations campaigns a new lease on life, as they offer a safe space for the worst climate disinformation. Despite warnings from environmental groups about the threats posed by rampant climate denial on social media, Facebook, Twitter, Google/YouTube, and other tech companies have refused to effectively moderate this extreme content or take action against repeat offenders of climate change disinformation.
The following report is a case study of the disinformation event following the
The case reveals how Facebook and the other platforms' fact-checking programs are at best ineffective, at worst a deflection from a real solution. The incident illustrates how right-wing extremists and fossil fuel interests weaponized social media to deride climate solutions. The campaign rapidly expanded into mainstream media and subsequently the political arena, providing false talking points for politicians to blame renewable power and climate solutions at large for the failures of fossil fuels in
Our research reviewed the misleading content on social media and in right-wing news outlets following the storm and then catalogued total interactions (likes, comments, and shares) of high-performing social media posts that amplified the falsehood. We conclude with recommendations for Facebook, Twitter,
During the extreme winter storm that hit
In fact, the energy losses from natural gas outages were several times that of wind generation failures./4
However, in just four days, this misleading claim against renewable energy rapidly proliferated on social media platforms and right-wing outlets, reaching millions of viewers. Below is the day-by-day account of how the lies spread, along with the resulting engagement numbers.
An image of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine is posted on Twitter by a user named @Oilfield_Rando, along with a caption suggesting that the failure of green energy caused the blackouts, and receives 2k likes. The photo was actually from 2014 and was taken in
The helicopter image spreads to more prominent social media accounts, like
The narrative of failing wind turbines is used by conservative news outlets and shared to millions of viewers on social media as the primary explanation for the blackouts. Outlets such as Breitbart, The Daily Wire, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes publish articles attributing the
The wind turbine narrative is embraced by climate-denying and conspiracy-minded elected
B. REACH OF SOCIAL MEDIA DISINFORMATION ON
* Posts with fact-check labels accounted for only 0.9% of interactions with high-performing Facebook posts spreading the windmill narrative (the 10 highest-performing posts containing the falsehood and the 10 highest-performing posts containing the windmill image were analyzed)./9
* On Twitter, the most popular post during this period (
* In the two days following the initial blackouts,
* At least five elected officials used the wind turbine narrative to reinforce their bias against climate solutions.
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Facebook: As of
Twitter: As of
Youtube: As of
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C. MAINSTREAM MEDIA'S RESPONSE
The false narratives of wind turbine failures were quickly debunked by Facebook's fact-checking partners (Politifact,
Local media outlets also made a concerted effort to debunk these claims, highlighting the fact that renewable energy actually overperformed expectations during the storm and calling for an upgrade to renewables to prepare for the challenges of climate change. In the days following the storm, articles from
The strong response from mainstream and local media outlets debunking the wind turbine narrative throws social media platforms into sharp relief as the only home for the worst disinformation./13
D. FACEBOOK'S FACT-CHECKING FAIL
Our analysis found that fact-checked posts accounted for only 0.9% of the total interactions of high-performing social media posts observed spreading the windmill narrative, but due to Facebook's refusal to show site-wide ecosystem metrics, more or less could exist. Public researchers can't report on what Facebook conceals.
In most cases, widely shared, false narratives associated with the incident either 1) blamed renewable energy failures for the blackouts or 2) amplified an image of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine and claimed that image was taken during the
Facebook did take some action on the posts that amplified the windmill image. Ninety percent of the 10 highest-performing posts containing the wind turbine image had fact-checking labels; however, these posts had only 6,293 interactions combined. The failure to fact-check the most viral posts associated with major news outlets and influencers sharply illuminates how ineffectual Facebook's fact-checking process is across influential accounts, in addition to its lack of transparency about what content justifies fact-checking.
The disinformation didn't stop at reaching millions of people online. Within days of @Oilfield_Rando sharing the first post, one of the most important voices in the crisis,
Who bought the lie?
Analysis from the research firm Graphika showed that the tweets promoting the false
Polling from Data for Progress confirms these findings in the breakdown of public belief around the wind turbines. Only 50% of
* Disallow climate change disinformation and hate -speech in organic and paid posts and groups.
* Create a two-strike policy for repeat disinformers, removing viral functions as a first step.
* Commit to monitoring climate change and identity-based hate disinformation and releasing regular, third-party, independent, and transparent ecosystem-wide reports detailing labeled and removed content and actors.
* Ensure disinformation content from known disinformers is transparently reviewed by expert teams on climate denial and identity-based hate and harassment.
* Adopt a correct-the-record program that shows a retroactive correction to each user who viewed, interacted with, or shared a piece of misleading content.
* Establish and empower permanent infrastructure for civil rights, climate denial, misogyny, and violence-against-women issues, including a C-Suite executive with relevant expertise.
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