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Nonprofit files complaints against climate/COVID-19 misinformation on Facebook

Two new complaints were filed with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) by Whistleblower Aid,—the non-profit organization representing Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen—eighteen months after Facebook committed to limiting misinformation. Last year, Haugen had leaked internal Facebook documents, dubbed the Facebook Papers/Facebook Files, to the Wall Street Journal. Since then, she has testified before Congress for possible changes to Section 230—the law that safeguards websites against illegal content posted by users.

As was first reported by The Washington Post, the complaints allege that Facebook, now known as Meta, misleads investors on its efforts to tackle climate change and COVID-19 misinformation.

According to The Washington Post’s obtained copy, the first complaint alleges the presence of easily available misinformation on climate change on Facebook, contradicting the company’s claims that it’s fighting climate denial. The complaint also includes internal documents where employees have detailed about their own experiences with climate-related falsehoods on Facebook. 

One such employee reported, as per The Post, that searching for “climate change” in the Watch tab results in a video promoting “climate misinfo”. This video reportedly has about 6.6 million views. According to another one, they urged the company to remove climate misinformation rather than just labeling posts.

The second complaint pertains to Facebook’s promise to combat COVID-19 misinformation allegedly not aligning with its actions. The complaint cites an internal document that shows a 20% climb in misinformation in April 2020, according to The Post. The complaint also mentions a May 2020 record of employees pointing out hundreds of anti-quarantine groups on Facebook. 

According to Adweek, a study conducted by the Center for Countering Digital Hate looked at popular Facebook posts from a group of preselected publishers which had previously written articles around climate change denial. The study shows that 50.5% of the posts in the sample generated 541,877 interactions while having no information labels.

In a statement to Adweek, Facebook spokesperson Kevin McAlister said the research was not necessarily a fair reflection of Facebook’s efforts on climate misinformation. “When [a network of independent fact checkers] rate this content as false, we add a warning label and reduce its distribution so fewer people see it,” McAlister said. “During the time frame of this report, we hadn’t completely rolled out our labeling program, which very likely impacted the results.”

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