The race against climate misinformation
Photo illustration: Rafael Henrique/Getty Images

The race against climate misinformation

Source Code

Good morning! This Monday, Facebook's struggles with its role in climate denialism, enterprise software is being put to the test, and Roblox was down for three whole days.

Facebook employees sound the climate alarm

The UN's COP26 climate change conference is getting underway this morning. (The biggest news so far is the outrageously long lines just to get into the conference.) The stakes are high for the negotiations in Glasgow, as well as for the quality of the information coming out of it. Twitter, for instance, is launching a new system for "pre-bunking" climate misinformation and a hub for #COP26 updates in several languages.

The Facebook Papers have shown us how complicated climate change misinformation can be. Facebook has has spent years resisting calls to outright forbid climate misinformation on the platform. The company has instead touted its own sort of "pre-bunking" system, the Climate Science Center, which launched last year, as one antidote to the problem. But internal documents reveal that earlier this year, users still largely didn't know the information center existed — and in the United States, were particularly dubious about the accuracy and trustworthiness of the information contained within it.

Facebook is still seeking to understand the role it plays in climate denialism, according to the documents. Even as its own employees have been sounding the alarm on Facebook's role in spreading climate misinformation for years.

  • One leaked report, from April of this year, details the company's findings from a survey of more than 5,000 people across eight countries.
  • The survey's goal was, in part, to get a sense of how people perceived the climate information center, which the report's author describes as Facebook's effort to "combat misinformation about climate change."
  • But the company's own survey data, collected in February, showed that even among users who had visited the center, 66% had no idea it existed. It also found that users in the U.S. were more likely not to believe in climate change overall than in those other countries and regions.
  • Facebook said the survey wasn't designed to be representative of all users.

Facebook is a primary source of climate information for its users, which presented an "opportunity to build knowledge through our platform," the report's author found.

  • Facebook has continued to make changes to the center as it expanded to new countries, including adding quizzes and features that debunk common myths, which the survey found users also had difficulty identifying.
  • According to data Facebook released last month, the center now has 100,000 daily visitors and 3.8 million followers. But as with most forms of misinformation, Facebook has continually declined to remove most climate misinformation from the platform, a topic that has been the source of consternation internally for years.

Repeated instances of climate change misinformation keep popping up in prominent places, according to the documents.

  • In one undated internal post, an employee found that a video called "Climate Change Panic is Not Based on Facts" by the conservative group Turning Point USA was the second search result for "climate change" on Facebook Watch and had amassed 6.6 million views in a little over a week.
  • Another August 2019 document reveals an employee asking why typing "climate change" in Facebook's search bar suggests other searches including "climate change debunked" and "climate change is a hoax."
  • "If someone is using Facebook Search to deliberately sow doubt and slow down the public response to the climate crisis, they are using our service to jeopardize the lives of billions of people over the coming decades. Is that an attack we are prepared for?" the employee asked.

Facebook recently announced a $1 million grant program to fund its fact-checkers' partnerships with climate experts. But experts say that's not good enough.

  • "The Climate Science Center is only a small step but does not address the larger climate disinformation crisis hiding in plain sight," Charlie Cray, a senior strategist for Greenpeace USA, told Protocol. "Just as Facebook has taken responsibility for its own carbon emissions, it must take responsibility to stop climate deniers from spreading disinformation on its platform."

Facebook is continuing to scrutinize its options for addressing climate change denial on the platform, the documents show, despite the pressure building up both internally and externally. That includes conducting interviews with a transcontinental focus group of people who hold a range of views on the climate.

The goal in part, according to the documents, was to analyze Facebook's role in shaping climate views and attitudes and understand how users experience climate misinformation and "what they think [Facebook] should do about it."

For some Facebook employees, it seems, the answer to that question is already clear.

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

This story first appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.

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People are talking

On Protocol | Fintech: Esusu co-founder Samir Goel says the company became a huge help during the pandemic:

  • "We kind of ended up being an intervening body at a time where kind of policymakers were figuring out what to do."

GlobalFoundries CEO Tom Caulfield said demand for microchips is jumping, and it won't fade for a while:

  • "For the better part of the next five to 10 years, we're going to be chasing supply not demand."

Facebook has been talking about the metaverse since at least 2018, when Jason Rubin laid out its vision in a 50-page document:

  • "The first metaverse that gains real traction is likely to the be the last. We must act first, and go big, or we risk being one of those wannabes."

On Protocol | Workplace: Blizzard Entertainment employee Jessica Gonzalez doesn't think Bobby Kotick's pay cut is well-intentioned:

  • "It just seems like he's trying to save face before the Activision Blizzard earnings call."

On Protocol | Workplace: The Facebook Papers show employees can get critical. In one instance, a worker directed concerns at Fidji Simo:

  • "Now that we are hurting, we start to listen more."

Coming this week

Web Summit begins today. A bunch of high-profile people are speaking, including Frances Haugen, Brad Smith and Amy Poehler.

The AI Summit starts on Wednesday. The event brings together speakers in data and intelligence at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

The FTC will host a microeconomics conference starting Thursday. The 14th annual event includes experts in antitrust and consumer protection.

Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Square, Qualcomm, EA, Activision Blizzard and Yelp report earnings this week.

In other news

On Protocol | Enterprise: Enterprise tech is getting a run for its money. Companies like Microsoft and Zoom have done particularly well selling remote work tools, but as the workplace gets more complicated, their long-term success will be put to the test.

Dell's spinoff of VMware should be completed today. The new Dell will be worth about $33 billion, the Financial Times reported, and VMware about $64 billion.

Kuaishou restructured its leadership. Cheng Yixiao is the new CEO, while fellow co-founder and previous CEO Su Hua will stay chairman of the board. It's just the latest tech giant to change leaders during China's tech crackdown.

Two Netflix employees filed complaints with the NLRB after protesting the Dave Chappelle special. B. Pagels-Minor and Terra Field are alleging Netflix retaliated against them for participating in protected activity.

China wants into the global digital economy. The government applied to the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, which establishes rules and systems for digital trade and online life.

Roblox was down for several days. The company only identified and fixed the cause of the problem yesterday.

GameStop booted Jenna Owens. The ex-Amazon employee served as the company's COO for less than a year, and GameStop hasn't explained the reason for her departure.

Monique Meche is leaving Twitter. Meche has been the company's VP of public policy and philanthropy for over a year.

Twitter's latest tweaks

Twitter likes to change things up a lot. Sometimes it does away with features completely, like the time it dropped Fleets. Other times, the platform makes changes to existing features, and it's done so a couple times in the past week or so.

  • Users can now record conversations that happen in Spaces, then post the recordings. A number of hosts can begin using the feature, and everyone else will be able to in a few weeks.
  • Anyone can be a Spaces host now, too, no matter how many followers they have. Previously, only people with 600 or more followers could be a host.
  • The platform will also let all iOS users Super Follow some creators. That's the tool that allows creators to make money off Twitter through subscriptions.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA

U.S. businesses use Alibaba's innovative technologies to engage Chinese consumers. On Alibaba's platforms, shoppers can virtually try on products, browse 3D replicas of brick-and-mortar stores, and enjoy gamified shopping experiences.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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