Fighting climate change misinformation is half the battle

Campaign Savvy wordmark with headshot of Campaign US editor Alison Weissbrot

We can’t clean up the planet without cleaning up false information about climate change.

It’s been clear for some time now that social media plays a huge role in spreading misinformation about climate change (among other topics).

But it seems that until now, other categories of misinformation — the kind that splinters democracy, sways elections or leads to physical conflict or genocide — have taken priority as platforms try to weed out bad actors. 

On the surface, these scenarios feel more tangible and imminent. But if we’ve learned anything in the past few years, climate change is certainly more urgent than ever — despite it not consciously impacting our lives every single day.  

And if people aren’t getting the right information about how they can help the planet, they can’t play their part in saving it. 

That’s why I was pleased to see that Pinterest today unveiled a new climate misinformation policy that includes flagging content that denies climate change, misrepresents or cherrypicks scientific data, or includes misleading information about public safety emergencies such as natural disasters. 

But the proof of this effort will be in the pudding — in other words, how Pinterest enforces these policies to ensure misinformation is being caught and labeled properly. 

Just look at Meta, which last year pledged to double down on fighting climate change misinformation by expanding its Climate Science Center, investing $1 million in organizations that fight misinformation and highlighting young climate activists in a video series. 

One month after implementing these policies, climate misinformation continued to skyrocket on Facebook. According to a study released in the fall of 2021 by Stop Funding Heat, which analyzed more than 48,000 posts on the platform, climate misinformation content received on average between 818,000 and 1.36 million views every day. 

In February, another study from the British organization Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Meta was only labeling about half of the posts on its platforms from the world’s leading publishers of climate denial content. Ten publishers accounted for 69% of all interactions with climate misinformation on the platform, including sites such as Breitbart News and Russian state media.

Meta isn’t the only platform struggling to curb climate misinformation. In October, Google said it would no longer monetize YouTube videos and other online content that promote false information about climate change, but the platform is still making money from such ads. 

Also last fall, Twitter said it would start “pre-bunking” climate misinformation to get ahead of false narratives, but the platform doesn’t flag or label individual posts. TikTok doesn’t yet have guidelines specific to climate change misinformation. 

The onus isn’t just on the platforms. Advertisers and agencies have a huge role to play in the realm of greenwashing, which is still a major issue and continues to allow platforms to monetize with false and misleading claims about the climate crisis paid for by the world’s biggest polluters themselves.

There’s been much debate about whether agencies should ditch their climate-polluting clients. On the one hand, greenwashing for fossil fuel companies makes advertising part of the problem. On the other, such companies need help turning around their image as they adapt to environmental realities. The question remains if their desire to change is earnest. 

Misinformation is a thorny problem that won’t be solved overnight. But if we don’t start addressing climate misinformation as urgently as we do other topics, the ad industry will surely regret contributing to the destruction of our planet.

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