One Big Step Social Media Platforms Can Take to Stop Disinformation
Tech companies have failed the climate misinformation test. So far, moderation efforts haven’t managed to stamp out everything from baseless denial to more subtle forms of misinformation that nevertheless have contributed to climate action gridlock. A new report out on Thursday shows just how badly those efforts have gone. It also offers a handful of potential solutions, including the value of strength in numbers.
Climate change denial is pernicious and pervasive on social media platforms. This isn’t breaking news: Countless reports, studies and the Facebook Papers themselves have shown social media giants’ inability to combat this misinformation. But the new report from the Institute for Strategic Dialog and CASM Technology has some interesting insights into the problem.
The analysis shows just a handful of accounts are “super-spreading” misinformation on Twitter and that “a small group of repeat offenders can have a disproportionate effect on seeding and pushing adversarial content.”
On Facebook, posts with misinformation outperformed posts from the company’s own Climate Science Center in the runup to last year’s big United Nations climate conference.
Images are a key source of misinformation on all platforms, and can often elude fact-checking. (And even when they’re fact-checked, it’s too little, too late: The posts have often already gone viral across multiple platforms.)
Individual company efforts aren’t enough. It’s not that platforms haven’t tried to quell misinformation; it’s that those efforts haven’t solved the problem.
Twitter said earlier this year it would take down ads with climate misinformation, but non-sponsored denial still proliferates across the platform. Google did the same last year, though an analysis found some ads were still sneaking through. Pinterest has a strong policy to curtail climate misinformation in ads and posts. Fact-checking labels also abound everywhere.
What’s increasingly clear is that, just like addressing the climate crisis, the misinformation crisis won’t be solved by individual efforts alone.
So how about forming a supergroup? Or at the very least, a collaboration featuring guest appearances from the biggest platforms. There’s precedent for this from finding and stopping child sexual abuse material and countering terrorism. Tech companies have also worked together with the federal government on election security.
Those may seem like more pressing threats, but failing to address climate change could be life and death for millions of people. Even if there’s not a legal justification to curtail misinformation, there’s certainly a moral one.
Misinformation propagates across platforms — witness the viral but fake frozen wind turbine photo during the Texas blackouts — and banding together could stop its spread.
Deplatforming repeat offenders across sites could also help. Though it hasn’t been done in concert, de-platforming violent extremists have been a key strategy in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The report also suggests that granting researchers and regulators access to data showing how climate misinformation spreads could pay further dividends in terms of both transparency and third-party analyses to guide policies.
Tech companies still face a steep path to effective moderation. Terrorism and child exploitation are both universally (and rightfully) condemned as bad things. Climate change, though, continues to be a political football. And the ability to post without consequences has become one of the Republican lawmakers’ top legislative priorities as part of the culture wars. That makes climate misinformation moderation the ultimate third rail for tech companies. But then, that could make more centralized moderation all the more appealing.
The Biden administration has standards
Electric vehicle charging is a bit of a slapdash affair across the U.S. right now. But the Biden administration is trying to help make it a little more streamlined. On Thursday, it proposed new standards for EV chargers to ensure people know what they’re getting at the pump — errr, charging station.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill continues to pay dividends. The package, passed last year, includes $7.5 billion in funding for charging infrastructure that’s to be distributed to states. Each state can decide what to do with that cash. But Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said on a press call that the administration’s new standards will ensure “the [charging] experience is the same no matter where you are.”
“If we’re going to build out infrastructure like we haven’t done since the Eisenhower era, we have to do it right,” she added.
An effective universal charging network would work with all makes and models, have ample fast chargers so people aren’t waiting hours and also include ways to power up an EV in areas that are rural or urban.
Stephanie Pollack, the deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, said the proposed standards will define what “fast” means when it comes to charging, as well as a required amount of uptime and real-time data so you can use third-party apps to see where the nearest charger is and if it’s in use.
Those dividends can’t be paid forward soon enough. EVs are hot commodities due to rising gas prices and the plummeting cost of ownership compared to internal combustion engine vehicles. Interest in EVs is outpacing supply, but range anxiety is still a very real thing. Building out a standardized charging network of 500,000 chargers — the administration’s target — is a way to ensure that anxiety is replaced by sweet relief that you can get a charge and grab a bag of SunChips while you wait to top up. TBD on if SunChips are included once the standards are finalized … but they should be.
Make it rain
Some huge names in fashion are trying to clean up their carbon footprint, from monitoring their supply chains to creating high-tech materials. H&M and Lululemon are among the marquee brands that have contributed to the $250 million Fashion Climate Fund.
Ion Storage Systems, a company working on the holy grail of solid-state batteries, has closed a $30 million Series A round.
Encamp, an enterprise company that makes environmental compliance software has raised $30 million in series C funding.
Rheaply, a software company committed to helping businesses close the loop on a circular economy, has raised $20 million.
Zero-carbon “bio-cement” manufacturer Prometheus Materials raised $8 million in its series A round as part of its quest to clean up the building industry.
There’s a new weather forecaster in town. Salient Predictions raised $5.3 million in seed funding to bring its forecasts — covering anywhere from one week to 52 weeks — out to the masses.
The “C” in USB-C stands for “climate.” Well, not really, but it could! The European Union’s new law making USB-C the charging technology of the land could help us start to address the world’s e-waste problem and associated carbon pollution.
We’re on the cusp of producing green aluminium. A factory in Washington just needs *checks notes* access to enough clean energy. Ah, well then.
Tech companies can have their climate pledges tested. A new code and framework put together by the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative will put companies’ climate claims through a gauntlet to see what’s real and what’s greenwashing if they’re willing.
Rooftop solar has been a lifeline in Puerto Rico. Nearly five years after Hurricane Maria decimated the island’s grid, rooftop solar installations have increased at least eightfold as a grassroots movement to keep the lights on takes hold.
The New York Statehouse is climate chaos incarnate. Less than a week after passing a crypto mining moratorium, the Democratic supermajority in the state Assembly killed a clean energy bill — and it doesn’t bode well for climate action in other, less progressive statehouses.
When companies invest in maintaining their “green ledger” with the same commitment they have to their financial ledgers, they will be able to connect their environmental, social, and financial data holistically so they can steer their business towards sustainability. At the end of the day, what gets measured, gets managed.