Chief metamate Mark Zuckerberg just got some bad news. His company is the subject of another SEC complaint filed by Whistleblower Aid, the group representing former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen, alleging the company has misled investors about its efforts to combat climate misinformation.
The complaint, filed earlier this month and reported by the Washington Post on Friday, alleges that while Facebook — now Meta — has touted its renewable energy buys and its investment in a Climate Science Information Center, internal communications tell a slightly different story.
Previously reported documents included in the tranche leaked by Haugen last year show that the Climate Science Information Center, a clearinghouse for climate facts on the platform, had relatively low penetration with users compared to viral posts chock full of misinformation. Employees raised concerns about a post by conservative group Turning Point USA that racked up 6.6 million views in a week despite being based on falsehoods. In comparison, Meta's own data shows the Climate Science Information Center sees an average of 100,000 visitors per day.
Per the Post, Whistleblower Aid filed a complaint about these and other issues tied to COVID-19 misinformation, alleging that Meta made "material misrepresentations and omissions in statements to investors" about how it deals with misinformation.
"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," Drew Pusateri, a spokesperson for Meta, said in an email, noting the company has pointed 2 billion people to accurate public health information and that its Climate Science Information Center is available in 150 countries.
While tools to combat misinformation once it's out in the wild are part of the puzzle, cutting it off at the tap is also a surefire way to ensure it doesn't spread in the first place. Yet Meta has declined to take those steps.
Investors have taken an increasing interest in companies' climate goals, which makes this complaint one to watch. So, too, do the stakes of, you know, actually addressing climate change by reducing carbon pollution over the coming decades. Misinformation has polluted discourse for years, starting with oil companies using the pages of newspapers to run advertorials and concoct a concerted misinformation campaign modeled off of denying the link between smoking and cancer. That's left the world facing a make or break moment. Emissions need to fall roughly 7% per year this decade to have a decent shot at keeping the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, a crucial threshold outlined by the United Nations and numerous scientists.
Meta's own employees seem to be aware of those stakes and the dangers of letting misinformation flourish. In the internal documents supporting the SEC complaint, an employee asked if the company was ready to face accusations that its lax approach to climate denial could "jeopardize the lives of billions of people over the coming decades."