How can Facebook stop climate misinformation when its ‘fact-checkers’ are deniers?

The two fatal flaws in Zuckerberg’s plan to deal with fake news.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018. CREDIT: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.

If you had any hope that Facebook would be a positive force in the fight against catastrophic climate change, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg dashed them this week.

Serious U.S. climate action has been stalled by billions of dollars in spending by the big fossil fuel polluters that have spread disinformation to politicians, the media, and the public.

But this week, Zuckerberg made clear that Facebook won’t explicitly ban either Holocaust denial or an extreme conspiracy theory guy like Alex Jones — who is a major climate science denier.

Worse, in clarifying his remarks, Zuckerberg said Wednesday that while he won’t block fake news from appearing on his site, his fact-checkers would stop it from spreading widely.


But we already know that Zuckerberg is partnering with a right-wing media outlet that spreads climate disinformation to fact-check stories. And he recently brought in a right-wing think tank that spreads climate disinformation to figure out whether Facebook displays a liberal bias.

So much for policing Facebook against the anti-science disinformation campaign on climate change.

In his interview with Recode published on July 18, Zuckerberg used the example of Holocaust denial. He said that he finds it “deeply offensive,” but “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

When pressed by Recode on “intentionally,” he said

It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent… I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, “We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.

This is astonishingly naïve. The Holocaust is a well-documented historical fact.

Those who are actively and aggressively denying it aren’t just “getting things wrong … multiple times.” They are intentionally spreading disinformation. 

After Zuckerberg got slammed for his version of the “there are good people on both sides” argument, he tried to clean it up in an email to Recode asserting, that he “absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”

But then he went on to say (emphasis added):

Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.

There are two fatal flaws in Zuckerberg’s plan.

First, it crucially relies on having unbiased fact checkers. But Facebook has already announced that leading climate science deniers will be fact checking Facebook (The Weekly Standard) and policing it for bias (The Heritage Foundation).


This is indeed the fox guarding the hen house. Or, in this case, Fox News is guarding the greenhouse — since last week Facebook revealed it intends to bring its users a great deal of content from that anti-science cable channel.

Second, the social science literature is quite clear that the best way to fight fake news is, first, don’t expose people to it at all and, second. if you insist on exposing readers to lies, then you need to keep the lies to a minimum while repeatedly exposing them to the truth.

But Zuckerberg is not going to do either of those. And by explicitly partnering with climate deniers, he has guaranteed that Facebook will remain a major part of the fake news problem.