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Opinion | Social Media Is Polluted With Climate Denialism

Employees at Facebook have wrestled internally with how to approach climate change misinformation since at least 2019, according to documents released by the former Facebook employee Frances Haugen. According to one exchange, an employee seemed flummoxed by the company’s refusal to remove posts featuring climate change denial, because global warming is not a matter of opinion. Another employee said Facebook removes posts when “content may lead to imminent harm against people offline.”

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Facebook said its policy of not fact-checking or labeling posts from politicians was justified because the company doesn’t “want to limit political speech on the platform” — despite evidence it has that politicians are more likely to be believed than regular users and their posts are more widely shared.

Facebook, which has called climate change the “greatest threat we all face,” has established only a sparsely visited section on its main site, known as the Climate Science Center, with occasional articles addressing rising global temperatures.

Climate skeptics are simply altering tactics from outright climate change denial to discrediting evidence and shifting blame from corporations to individuals, said Michael Mann, the author of “The New Climate War.”

On YouTube, the nonprofit Heartland Institute, known for attacking climate science, has backed the German influencer Naomi Seibt, who has posted videos denying climate change “hysteria” and encouraging viewers to live carefree lives. But YouTube rarely appends warning labels directing users to more reliable information, even as her videos garner thousands of views.

YouTube says it uses software to make debunked climate content less likely to show up in people’s recommendation feeds, but the climate activism nonprofit Avaaz found last year that the algorithm still prompted millions of views of questionable videos. The group also found that YouTube was selling ads to run alongside them.

As a result, Google, YouTube’s parent company, recently took a baby step, announcing it will no longer allow websites and YouTube creators to make money off advertising that denies humans’ contributions to climate change or denies global warming. Similarly, Facebook said climate change and global warming were on a list of topics that could no longer be used by marketers to target advertising, starting next year.

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