By labeling blatant lies as “opinion,” fossil fuel industry pundits have found “a loophole that you can drive a Mack truck through.”
Facebook is famously struggling with outright falsehoods in political ads, namely those ads placed by President Trump’s campaign, problems exacerbated by the platform’s algorithm that generously rewards those posts that manage to create the most outrage or engagement from your racist former middle-school classmates. But while Facebook political ads are drawing the most attention and scrutiny, the New York Times brings us an analysis today of how completely dishonest misinformation campaigns from fossil fuel lobbyists are able to sidestep Facebook’s content moderation “False” labels by labeling these as opinion pieces, though not drawing this distinction in any way to the reader.
Former Obama administration climate adviser John Podesta calls the Facebook opinion-content exception a “a loophole that you can drive a Mack truck through.”
The Times tells us the story of the Washington Examiner op-ed by something called the CO2 Coalition, and industry group dedicated to defending the “important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy.” (Note: The EPA defines carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas that is overwhelmingly responsible for global warming.) Facebook moderators slapped the “False” label on the post, but the company overruled them by applying the opinion loophole and allowing the piece to be shared freely without any addendum or warning.
“You have a statement like, ‘We believe everybody should have a voice,’ which is something Mark Zuckerberg has said over and over again. It sounds great,” Columbia University journalism center director Emily Bell told the Times. “But in practice, we know what letting everybody have a voice means. It means that you don’t discriminate against bad actors who are foreign powers.
Mother Jones has more on the issue, noting that Facebook is creating a 20-member Oversight Board to combat such misinformation, a board staffed with "academics and politicians." This follows an incident last year when independent fact-checkers labeled the CO2 Coalition post as false, but “a conservative staffer at Facebook overrode them to remove the false label.”
Facebook has made marginal, whack-a-mole progress in limiting the spread of anti-vaccine kook theories, QAnon conspiracies, and COVID-19 misinformation. But those are generally spread by everyday Facebook users who generally believe they busshit they’re spreading. When the lies come from giant fossil fuel companies and well-funded think tanks, Facebook’s content moderation policies seem to melt like polar icecaps.
Note: A previous version of this post stated that the Oversight Board had labeled a post last year as false. The Oversight Board is not yet making those decisions
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