Photo: Loic Venance (Getty Images)
Anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes online is likely acutely aware of the seemingly endless ocean of climate change denial content swirling across social media. But the vast misinformation maelstrom is largely being churned out by less than a dozen publishers.
According to a new report published on Tuesday from The Center For Countering Digital Hate, just 10 Facebook pages pushed 69% of all climate denial. Most of them were—shocker—megaphones of the political far right.
To conduct the analysis, the group sifted through 6,983 climate denial articles featured in Facebook posts over the past year. Breitbart, the Western Journal, and Newsmax are the top purveyors of climate denial. Altogether, the report notes these publishers have a combined 186 million followers on major social media networks.
In addition to fomenting and amplifying unnecessary hesitancy around addressing the world’s most pressing problem, these publishers also made a decent amount of money. According to the report, the top 10 publishers of climate change denial content received 1.1 billion page visits and raked in $3.6 million in advertising revenue from Google over the past six months.
Here’s the full top 10 list of publishers who spread the most climate change denial content according to the report.
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The glut of climate change denial content comes despite a series of commitments, however tepid, by Facebook and other social media sites to supposedly reduce the content’s reach. In February, for example, Facebook said it would start attaching labels to some climate related content and would direct users to its lackluster Climate Science Information Center. Yet the analysis found only 8% of the most popular posts on Facebook that contained climate denial content were accompanied by labels. In other words, the vast majority of this deceptive content is reaching audiences with no context to note its misleading. Leaked documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen show that the company’s employees have had vigorous discussions about how to check denial on the platform. (Or in at least one instance, argued for allowing denial to keep flowing.)
Other tech giants have also tried to constrain climate denial on their platforms. Earlier this month, Google announced it will prohibit ads featuring climate change denial content and demonetize denial, both on the search engine and YouTube, citing pressure from advertisers. Twitter, meanwhile, has recently taken on a different approach, opting instead to make authoritative information about climate science more accessible in users’ trends list search and explore tabs, according to Axios. If successful, Twitter hopes the approach will “pre-bunk” climate denial content so that it’s not amplified on the platform.
So far, these efforts have largely fallen short, a point not lost on advocates and some scientists. In March, a collection of 13 environmentalist groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth sent a letter to Zuckerberg demanding greater, more specific action about labeling climate change denial content.
“Climate change disinformation is spreading rapidly across Facebook’s social media platform, threatening the ability of citizens and policymakers to fight the climate crisis,” the letter reads.