Facebook Whistle Blower: Company Slow to Combat Climate, Covid Disinformation

February 18, 2022

My experience is that while social media giants have been slow to combat misinformation from dedicated troll farms and professional misinformers, they responded instantly to my video of last year that drew a straight line from 40 years of attacks on reality to the events of January 6, 2020. You’ll have to ID yourself to watch the video above (let me know if that’s changed) – but a lot of people say it’s a valuable puzzle piece. You’ll note I included a short clip from CNN profiling anti-vaxxer Heather Simpson as a case study. (more on her below)

Washington Post:

A pair of whistleblower complaints filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission this month allege Facebook misled investors about its efforts to combat climate change and covid-19 misinformation, according to redacted copies of the documents viewed by The Washington Post.

Filed by Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit representing former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, the complaints allege that the company made “material misrepresentations and omissions in statements to investors” about its efforts to combat misinformation. The complaints, which have not been previously reported, build on Haugen’s congressional testimony and filings her lawyers submitted to the financial regulator last year, and they draw from thousands of internal documents that she took before leaving the company in May.

One complaint alleges that climate change misinformation was prominently available on Facebook and that the company lacked a clear policy on the issue as recently as last year, despite Facebook executives’ committing to fight the “global crisis” during earnings calls. A second, companion complaint argues that while Facebook executives were publicly touting their efforts to remove harmful covid misinformation, internal documents “paint a different story.” The complaint cites internal company communications about the spread of vaccine hesitancy in comments and internal surveys that showed the proliferation of covid misinformation on the service.

“Some investors simply will not want to invest in a company that fails to adequately address such misinformation and then engages in misstatements and omissions on the topic,” one complaint says.

Below, PBS Newshour looks at Covid disinformation in the “Wellness” community – a worthwhile proxy for what goes on in the climate space – and again, Heather Simpson appears, with more insight.

Facebook rebranded itself as Meta last year, after Haugen left the company and went public as a whistleblower. The company continues to remove false claims about vaccines and has worked to elevate “authoritative information” about climate change and public health, Meta spokesman Drew Pusateri said.

“There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to stopping the spread of misinformation, but we’re committed to building new tools and policies to combat it,” Pusateri told The Post in a statement.

For years, Democrats have criticized social networks over what they argue is a negligent approach to misinformation about public health, democracy and the environment. The White House last year pressured Facebook to do more to address vaccine misinformation, a push that culminated in President Biden telling reporters “they’re killing people.” But despite public fireworks, policymakers and regulators in the interim have taken little action to rein in the proliferation of falsehoods online, in part because many proposals targeting misinformation risk running afoul of the First Amendment.

Haugen’s lawyers have sidestepped this concern by focusing their complaints on corporate interests: whether the company has lied to investors.

Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School and director of the Stanford Cyber Policy Center, called the strategy a “creative” approach to the problem. “You cannot pass a law in the U.S. banning disinformation,” Persily said. “So what can you do? You can hold the platforms accountable to promises they make. Those promises could be made to users, to the government, to shareholders.”

The climate change complaint, filed with the SEC on Feb. 7, cites records that show employees internally grappling with the company’s perceived role in spreading climate misinformation. In a document from the first quarter of 2021, an employee said they searched for “climate change” in the social network’s Watch tab. The second result was a piece of “climate misinfo,” the employee wrote, and had been viewed more than 6.6 million times.

Another employee working on Facebook’s search integrity called for the company to do more to address climate denialism. “Can we take it a step farther and start classifying and removing climate misinformation and hoaxes from our platforms,” they wrote.

The complaint also cites internal records about the platform’s Climate Science Information Center, a much-touted hub designed to connect people with authoritative climate information. Awareness of the webpage was “very low,” even for people who had visited it.

“Climate change knowledge is generally poor,” one of the internal reports from 2021 said. “Given how many people use Facebook for information about climate change … climate science myths are a problem across all surveyed markets.”

The filings argue that it’s particularly urgent that Facebook tackle climate change misinformation, in part because of the popularity of the site. An internal company document cited in the complaint saysFacebook is the second-most common source for news related to climate change, behind only television news and ahead of news aggregators, movies, online climate news sources and other social media platforms.

UPDATE:

This rash of fascist Shamans was definitely nothing I ever foresaw.

2 Responses to “Facebook Whistle Blower: Company Slow to Combat Climate, Covid Disinformation”

  1. jimbills Says:

    Almost all of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertisement appearances, and that is fueled by clicks. It’s human nature to seek out the controversial and/or gravitate towards messages that they already want to hear – i.e. BS draws views and time on the site, which fuels ad appearances (many of which are BS as well), which makes Facebook money.

    It’s the exact same reason why Les Moonves said Trump was bad for the country but great for network news. Why Facebook itself is slow to combat disinformation isn’t a mystery. It’s baked into their business model.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      “Why Facebook itself is slow to combat disinformation isn’t a mystery. It’s baked into their business model.”

      Aye, the flip side to suing because “Facebook lied to the investors about removing information” is “Invest in Facebook because their conspiracy-promoting model makes us munnnnny.”


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