Bulletins

​Climate denial is dead on Facebook. What replaced it is more insidious. ​

"Energy independence" is no less braindead than saying sunspots cause climate change. But it's propagating across the social network largely free of fact checks.

Mark Zuckerberg gestures to the right while wearing a black crew neck shirt.

Facebook is facing a new climate misinformation problem.

Photo: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

We've reached the point where flat-out climate denial is being stamped out. Newspapers have largely stopped quoting it and social networks and search engines have throttled its spread online. But the fossil fuel industry and its allies have found a new way to achieve the same ends of inaction: touting "energy independence." Protocol got an exclusive first look at an analysis by Media Matters showing how the meme based on a false premise propagates across Facebook with little or no oversight.


The analysis looked at the top 100 Facebook posts by interactions from September 2021 to April 2022 that spread climate and energy misinformation. A large portion of those posts focused on the idea of "energy independence" as a justification to drill for more oil and gas, yet only two of those were labeled for spreading misinformation.

The idea that the U.S. is woefully dependent on foreign oil and gas is, if we're being blunt, not true. The U.S. is a net exporter of liquid natural gas and oil (though the latter may shift this year). The concept that "energy independence" is tied to producing more oil and gas is also misinformation. To avoid heating the planet more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, a key climate guardrail, the International Energy Agency found last year the world needs to stop new fossil fuel exploration by the end of this year.

You wouldn't know any of this from the posts Media Matters identified, though. The drumbeat for more oil and gas extraction has kicked into high gear over the past few months as gas prices have spiked (this despite the fact that you can't just magically flip the oil switch and flood the market with cheap fossil fuels).

In a March 10 post highlighted in the report, Mike Rowe (yes, that guy— it's kind of his thing) said, "One minute, America was a net exporter of oil and natural gas. The next minute, we’re back to buying oil from despots and sheiks, with gas prices at an all-time high." Literally nothing has changed in the mythical "one minute" Rowe references. "Honest question," Rowe continues, "Why would we allow energy independence to slip through our fingers?” (We're not.)

The post has no fact-checking label and contains more misinformation and hand waving. But we're not going to spend all day talking about Mike Rowe here because there are other, even more egregious examples out there. A post by Media Research Center TV, a right-wing media watchdog, does have a fact-checking label for falsely claiming, "American energy independence has been lost under Joe Biden and the policies of the left." But it was still shared 29,000 times, reflecting the reality that even with moderation, misinformation is still pinging across Facebook.

"We have to have shared language around how we're defining misinformation, disinformation and malinformation," Allison Fisher, the director of the climate and energy program at Media Matters, told Protocol. "The wider definition that we're using includes anything that's trying to erode climate science or efforts to act on climate as misinformation. All of these achieve the same thing, though the intent can be a little bit different."

That intent is to delay action on addressing climate change by ending the use of fossil fuels. The longer misinformation about energy independence propagates, the greater the risk of it being treated as a political issue across the spectrum of left to right rather than a scientific one. That points for the need for more stringent fact-checking guidelines and even enforcement.

“This research and content illustrate that the policies that have been in place to address climate misinformation are inadequate,” Fisher said. “They’re just not working, either because they’re not being enforced, or they’re just inadequate to begin with.”

Latest Bulletins

Mobile game revenue will decline for the first time in history this year, market research firm Newzoo now says in a revised outlook for the 2022 global games market. While the whole game industry is expected to contract by 4.3% — another first since Newzoo began tracking the market in 2007 — the company is predicting a 6.4% decline in mobile game spending on top of a 4.2% decline in console game spending.

Keep Reading Show less

Amazon is planning to lay off thousands of employees, Protocol has learned, ahead of what the company has cautioned will be a slow holiday shopping season.

Keep Reading Show less

Google agreed to pay $391.5 million and make changes to its user privacy controls as part of a settlement with a coalition of 40 state attorneys general. The coalition accused Google of misleading customers about location-tracking practices that informed ad targeting.

Keep Reading Show less

FTX has filed for bankruptcy and the crypto company also announced that founder Sam Bankman-Fried has resigned as CEO.

Keep Reading Show less

Salesforce recently updated its internal policies to make it easier for managers to terminate employees for performance issues without HR involvement, Protocol has learned, a move that comes as the software giant looks to shed as many as 2,500 jobs.

Keep Reading Show less

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said fraud and scam reports comprise the top complaint it receives about virtual currencies — and that customers are finding little help from companies when it happens.

Keep Reading Show less

Elon Musk sent his first email to Twitter staff late Wednesday, warning of a difficult economic road ahead and telling employees they need to be in office for a minimum of 40 hours per week. "Sorry that this is my first email to the whole company, but there is no way to sugarcoat the message," he began, ominously.

Keep Reading Show less

Binance isn’t buying FTX after all. The crypto giant said Wednesday it has decided that it “will not pursue the potential acquisition” based on a “corporate due diligence” review.

Keep Reading Show less

On Wednesday, John Kerry unveiled a plan for a new carbon credit program aimed at mobilizing private capital to help middle-income countries transition away from coal and move toward renewable energy.

Keep Reading Show less

Meta announced it was laying off more than 11,000 employees Wednesday morning, slashing jobs in its recruiting department and refocusing its remaining team on AI discovery, ads, and its investment in the metaverse.

"I want to take accountability for these decisions and for how we got here," Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a message to employees that was also posted online. "I know this is tough for everyone, and I’m especially sorry to those impacted."

Keep Reading Show less

Al Gore has one mission this week at COP27, and that’s to give climate negotiators what he hopes will be a critical tool to address the crisis at hand: an independent, global inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, down to the individual facility.

The Climate TRACE coalition just released the world’s most detailed inventory of global greenhouse gas emissions, which Gore, a founding member, is unveiling on Wednesday at the United Nations climate summit in Egypt.

Keep Reading Show less

Way back in March, your friendly Protocol Climate team offered you some tips for writing a climate plan that doesn’t suck. Surely you took that advice. But if for some reason you didn’t, the United Nations has your back.

Keep Reading Show less

Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao said Tuesday the crypto powerhouse signed a deal to acquire rival FTX.

Keep Reading Show less

Salesforce is preparing for a major round of layoffs that could affect as many as 2,500 workers across the software vendor, Protocol has learned, in a bid to cut costs amid a new activist investor challenge and harsh economic conditions.

Keep Reading Show less

BlockFi has introduced a new digital assets interest product for accredited investors, after previously agreeing to shut down a yield-paying crypto product that the SEC said was illegal.

Keep Reading Show less

The Justice Department said Monday it seized $3.4 billion worth of bitcoin stolen in the 2012 hack of the Silk Road dark web marketplace.

Keep Reading Show less

U.S. election infrastructure is exceedingly secure, and voter fraud here is so rare it’s comparable to your annual chances of getting struck by lightning. Despite this, former President Donald Trump and a long list of allies in the Republican Party have spent the last two years questioning the overall integrity of the U.S. election system. Many of those allies are now candidates themselves, and their coordinated attack on the country’s status as a democracy is not a relic of 2020. Some have already started repeating these “Big Lie” charges ahead of next week’s midterms. And the social platforms that help them spread their message have prepared few measures to stop it.

Keep Reading Show less

The White House just laid out its climate tech priorities to reach net zero by 2050.

Keep Reading Show less

Coinbase said Thursday that it lost more users in the third quarter. But the decline wasn’t the disastrous drop that Wall Street was expecting, and that sparked a rally in the crypto company’s shares after-hours.

Keep Reading Show less

The Biden administration announced $9 billion in funding Wednesday to improve home efficiency, which could help support the installation of up to 500,000 heat pumps. With winter approaching and utilities warning of gas shortages, there are some major challenges facing the technology that money can be used to tackle.

Keep Reading Show less

Block beat earnings expectations, with strong growth largely fueled by its Cash App business. Traders sent shares up more than 12% after-hours Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less

Stripe is laying off 14% of its staff, its co-founders said Thursday, as the fintech startup must start "building differently for leaner times."

Keep Reading Show less

Roku saw its revenue growth slow in Q3, and warned investors Wednesday that things are about to get worse: “A lot of Q4 ad campaigns are being canceled,” said Roku CEO Anthony Wood during the company’s Q4 earnings call. “We’re seeing lots of big categories pull back. Telecom, insurance … even toy marketers are planning on reducing their spending.”

Keep Reading Show less

Green jobs and corporate climate pledges abound, but skilled sustainability professionals are scarce.

Keep Reading Show less

Robinhood reported a drop in third-quarter revenue but also a narrower loss on Wednesday, in a sign that it might be stabilizing its business as it attempts to recover from a staggering drop in the stock and crypto trading activity that fueled its growth.

Keep Reading Show less
Bulletins