Facebook VP Nick Clegg On New Climate Change Information Hub

Sep 15, 2020

Facebook is launching a climate change information page in an effort to promote facts about climate change from trusted sources.

Users in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany are seeing links and information from Facebook's Climate Change Information Center starting Tuesday. It's similar to the COVID-19 information page launched in March.

The spread of misinformation of all kinds has been a huge problem for the company, especially after evidence emerged of fake news on Facebook during the 2016 election campaign.

The climate information page features articles from reputable news sources and social media posts from government and international agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the World Meteorological Organization.

Facebook says it partners with more than 70 organizations to fact-check misinformation, including that related to climate change. There has been some controversy over what is exempted from fact-checking as "opinion" when it comes to climate change.

"We are hopeful this climate science information center will be very effective," says Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg.

"It provides a simple, easy-to-find repository for authoritative information about what is happening to our climate, how it's changing. And our experience with the COVID information hub is that there is a real appetite for people to find out more for themselves."

Clegg talked with NPR's Audie Cornish on All Things Considered about misinformation on Facebook. Here are selected excerpts of that interview:

Is there anything that Facebook can do more proactively to prevent misinformation from spreading?

We do already more than any other company in the industry. No other company partners with 70-plus fact-checkers around the world. Fact-checking is not some sort of light sanction. The suggestion that the only remedy to misinformation or the only credible remedy ... is when content is removed, I think overlooks how effective this program of fact-checking can be. And crucially, also, removing content is the ultimate sanction that a company like Facebook has. And we confine that to content where we think there is a clear and impending link to real-world harm.

So, for instance, this last weekend we removed content which circulated which made claims that far-left groups were responsible for the fires in Oregon. And we did so because the police and law enforcement emergency services told us that these rumors were actually taking their resources away from helping people whose homes were ablaze. And so that's a clear example where we felt that by removing that content, we were also diminishing the real-world harm that could could follow.

Recently Department of Health and Human Services public affairs official Michael Caputo used a Facebook livestream to make all kinds of claims against the federal government, ones that do sound threatening or dangerous, claiming that there were [left-wing] hit squads that were preparing for armed insurrection. How do you refute this?

So I haven't seen the video, so I simply can't comment on the video itself. ...

Look, the country is going through a highly, highly polarized time with people from all wings of opinion saying things to each other and about each other, not least in the run-up to this highly consequential election.

And we have put in place a whole range of guardrails to try and make sure that our platform remains a place for open debate. Sometimes we act swiftly and immediately. Sometimes we don't act quickly enough and then quite rightly, people criticize Facebook.

But I don't think it would be fair to overlook the huge, huge undertaking which now exists on Facebook, whether it is the millions of fake accounts that are removed every day, the 35,000 people who been employed to help monitor what goes on on our platform.

I guess what I want to say is these things aren't disconnected. Here you have a science hub and here you have someone using Facebook, someone in an official capacity who claims federal government scientists are engaging in sedition. I mean, this is going against the let's call it "good" or "clean" information you're trying to put out on the one hand. And on the other hand, there's a steady stream of this [misinformation].

I think it would be unrealistic to imagine that the only thing one is ever going to see on Facebook is material that you feel comfortable or happy about. That's not the nature of the world we live in. And it's certainly not the nature of the highly polarized debate we have in the United States. If that video broke our rules and we didn't act on it, I'm sure that is a legitimate source of criticism. But I think the underlying point you're making is that, yes, one of the reasons for this climate science center is precisely because good speech is often the most effective antidote to bad speech.

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

Peter Granitz and Patrick Jarenwattananon produced and edited the audio interview.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The global economy is powered by petroleum in cars and planes, power plants, plastics. The pandemic sent demand for fuel plummeting, and now some major energy groups say the decline will stick around into next year. In fact, NPR's Camila Domonoske reports the change might be permanent.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: The International Energy Agency issues a monthly report on the state of the oil market. Every decimal point is closely watched. Neil Atkinson is the head of the Oil Industry and Markets Division at the IEA.

NEIL ATKINSON: We'd be agonizing about changing the growth up or down by 0.1 million barrels per day.

DOMONOSKE: That was before the pandemic. In the report that came out this morning, the numbers are a lot bigger than that, and they're going down.

ATKINSON: So there's some negative vibes out there.

DOMONOSKE: It's not just the IEA. OPEC, the global oil cartel, just revised its expectations down. Also this week, Trafigura, the world's second-largest oil trading company, said there's a huge glut of oil on the way. Things were bad for the oil market this spring when the coronavirus caused a collapse in oil as lockdowns put a halt to travel.

ATKINSON: Doesn't matter if the price is zero. If you can't drive anywhere, there's no demand response.

DOMONOSKE: A price of zero sounds hypothetical, but at one point, prices actually went negative. Still, this summer, many in the industry were feeling optimistic. China's economy seemed to bounce back. There was hope the global economy would recover and demand for fuel would come surging back. Now...

ATKINSON: It just doesn't - to be a simple case of this horrible thing comes along in the first six months of the year and then mercifully goes away again, and we can all go back to normal. It's just not happening like that.

DOMONOSKE: And this immediate pandemic-driven drop in demand - it comes in the middle of huge uncertainty about the future of oil and gas because of climate change. In fact, there was another big report on the future of energy this week from BP, the British energy giant that's planning for a future with less petroleum. BP says it's possible this drop in demand is the start of an even bigger shift, and the world will never again use as much oil as it did in 2019. That's if the planet moves to take action on climate change.

CAROLYN KISSANE: Let's say BP is correct, right? And, you know, BP's not the only one that sort of sees the peak demand is in the past, right?

DOMONOSKE: Carolyn Kissane is an energy expert at New York University's Center for Global Affairs.

KISSANE: You have a - you know, an industry that is - we could say it's in decline, right? It's changing very rapidly.

DOMONOSKE: For a while now, the oil industry has considered what a future of declining demand would look like. That might have seemed like a distant future, but the pandemic is raising questions right now.

KISSANE: I think the idea that - you know, that we've passed peak demand - and I think once that gets into people's heads and especially into, like, the corporate heads, then they're like, wow, if that's the case, then maybe everything I was thinking six months ago has to be revised because now we're looking at a very different future.

DOMONOSKE: It's hard to predict exactly what happens next, especially these days. A lot depends on government policies and, of course, the pandemic. But Kissane says one thing is clear. Whether demand comes back eventually or declines from here on out, the months and years ahead will be tough for oil producers.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

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