It is harmful and falsely publicises efforts as supportive of climate goals, that in fact contribute to climate warming.
Those who know me, will know that I could not ignore reporting on this story, where today, 9 November, an open letter with over 250 signatures, led by the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN), demands COP26 leaders and technology platforms to address climate misinformation. CAN is a voluntary coalition that ensures industry ethics catches up with the technology of modern advertising.
We all are aware as consumers that many accounts and pages on digital platforms benefit from lucrative advertising spend, especially during the COP26 conference that is taking place right now and ends on 12 November. Producing climate misinformation has become a business model for many actors in social media and we need these platforms to clean up their act and to stop the fake news.
Climate disinformation and misinformation is deceptive, misleading and I will go as far to say dangerous, because it undermines the existence and the impact of climate change. It misrepresents scientific data by omission or cherry-picking, in order to erode trust in climate science, climate-focused institutions, experts, and solutions. It is harmful and falsely publicises efforts as supportive of climate goals, that in fact contribute to climate warming.
Daily misinformation monitored by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and 10+ climate organisations at COP26 found that climate misinformation is rampant, and current measures from tech platforms have failed to catch them. Eco-bot.net found a wide range of ‘greenwashing’ campaigns designed to look supportive of climate goals but contribute to climate warming or contravene the scientific consensus on mitigation and adaptation.
While recent research from Stop Funding Heat found 113 ads on Facebook with messages like “climate change is a hoax” between January and October 2021, with an estimated spend of between $58,000-$75,000 (about £42,000- 55,000). Such misleading content threatens to jeopardise climate negotiations and overall climate action. It is also confusing for the public.
Now this powerful letter from CAN demands:
- A universal definition of climate dis/misinformation.
- ‘Action against climate dis/misinformation’ to be included in the COP26 Negotiated Outcome, based on the above definition.
- Technology platforms to implement climate dis/misinformation policies and enforcement that extend to content, algorithms and advertising, similar to the robust COVID 19 policies that have been published over the last 18 months.
The Global Disinformation Index reported an uptick in disinformation every time a climate announcement was made in the lead up to COP26, and the Centre for Countering Digital Hate identified ten fringe publishers, ‘The Toxic Ten’, which fuel 69 percent of digital climate change denial. ISD recently released a report documenting a new conspiracy theory being used to drive the anti-climate debate, and earlier this year, InfluenceMap found 51 climate disinformation adverts, running in the US during the first half of 2020, on Facebook’s platforms. Only one of the adverts had been taken down by Facebook… the latest revelations show that there is not much hope for reforming the platform; the Facebook world is deadly.
Suzie Rook, Head of Brand and Design, SSE plc and Fiona Ball, Group Director, Bigger Picture, Sky who is one of the signatories of the letter, says, “This is a moment when businesses, including COP26 Principal Partners, SSE and Sky, climate experts, academics, campaigners and civil society are coming together to demand global action on climate disinformation and misinformation. Climate dis/misinformation is an obstacle in the efforts to keep 1.5 in reach and deliver real climate action. In order to fight it, we must have a common definition. The time is now.”
The letter signed by over 250 organisations, influencers and leaders that includes –
Laurence Tubiana, CEO of European Climate Foundation; Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Lead Climate & Energy, COP20 President, Former Minister of Environment for Peru; Sky and SSE plc, COP26 Principal Partners; Baroness Bryony Worthington, lead author of the UK Climate Act; Dr Dale Vince OBE, founder of Ecotricity and Chairman of Forest Green Rovers FC ; Brands Ben & Jerry’s and Virgin Media O2; Agencies Havas Media; and Civil society groups Avaaz, Friends of the Earth, WWF International, Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and National Union of Students.
Jacob Dubbins, co-founder of CAN
Jacob Dubbins, co-founder of CAN, explains thatthere isn’t a universally agreed definition of climate dis and misinformation, and most online platforms don’t have climate dis and misinformation policies. Dubbins adds, “We need both in order to combat misinformation that can seriously halt developments we are making to limit global warming to 1.5 ºC. We have seen misinformation derail conferences before, and we cannot have it happen again. Our planet and our lives are at stake.”
Earlier this month, Google announced a new monetization policy, developed in partnership with CAN, that will “prohibit adverts for, and monetization of, content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change”. Actions from technology platforms during the pandemic, including COVID19 fact checks on any posts that pertain to vaccines and the pandemic, set a precedent for what they can do with regards to climate dis and misinformation. Michael Khoo, Friends of the Earth co-chair of the Climate Disinformation Coalition, says, “Climate denialism is a threat to solving the climate crisis, and it’s running rampant on social media platforms. Leaders must require transparent data from these companies so we can understand the full extent of the disinformation campaigns and stop them from preventing action on climate change.”
Misinformation is like a virus
The COP26 Presidency has outlined a need for ‘a new work programme for climate empowerment, education, training and public awareness, participation and access to information’ in the COP26 Negotiated Outcome.
Misinformation is like a virus; it spreads. COP26 is a perfect moment to start momentum for decision-makers to acknowledge the climate misinformation threat and, through global cooperation, to step up against it.
Sangeeta Waldron is the global editor at India CSR. She is Founder of Serendipity PR & Media. Author of Corporate Social Responsibility Is Not Public Relations, published by LID Business Media.