According to Meta’s Ad Library, between $4.13 and $5.21 million of advertising dollars was spent by just 13 companies since January 2023.

Big oil pumping millions in climate misinformation before COP28: Report

A new report finds that big oil’s ad spend on Meta ranges from $4.13- $5.21 million, spreading climate misinformation trend, threatening climate decision-making and information integrity pre-COP28

As climate negotiations commence at COP28 in Dubai, a report has found that big oil companies have spent millions of dollars on social media to spread climate misinformations. According to Meta’s Ad Library, between $4.13 and $5.21 million of advertising dollars was spent by just 13 companies since January 2023. Due to lack of transparency on any ads not labelled as ‘Social Issues, Political or Elections’, the total was likely much higher. Four fossil fuel corporations—Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and TotalEnergies—accounted for 98% of the identified ad spend.

The Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) coalition released a new report, “Deny, Deceive, Delay (Vol.3): Climate Information Integrity ahead of COP28,” presenting a snapshot of trends in climate misinformation as COP28 commences. 

The report looked at four key areas: #ClimateScam on X, Facebook, and Instagram; ad tech’s role in monetising sites that host climate mis-/disinformation; how Russian State accounts on Facebook engage with climate and energy; and fossil fuel advertising on Facebook. 

Big Oil spills millions on Meta ads

The report found that ads regularly emphasised sustainability or other ‘socially progressive’ credentials for the Carbon Majors or petro states in question. This is despite oil and gas companies only investing 1% of the global total into clean energy in 2022, according to a report published by the International Energy Agency last week.

Additionally, almost all adverts identified from the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) were targeting countries in the Global South, in particular Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. They also appear to have disproportionate return on investment, in some cases spending between $3 and $99 on campaigns that achieved nearly 1 million impressions. 

Commenting on Big Oil’s ad spend, Faye Holder Program Manager at Influence Map, said, “Digital platforms continue to provide vested fossil fuel actors with a cheap and easy way to disinform the public about climate change. Over the past year, there has been a lot of positive momentum around tackling greenwash and disinformation, but this report shows us there is still a long way to go. And with platforms failing to implement even their own partial policies, the need for legislation protecting the public’s right to accurate information is paramount.”

#ClimateScam outperforms #ClimateCrisis and #ClimateEmergency on X

The report found that the hashtag #ClimateScam consistently appeared as a top result and is suggested in the autocomplete feature when using the search function on X/Twitter, even with incomplete terms such as ‘#cl’. In contrast to the previous year, this pattern is now associated with discernible trends in performance and the viral nature of related content across the platform.  X (formerly Twitter) is renowned for live commentary on reporting on events. #ClimateScam is being used in 2023 to deny climate change’s contributions to extreme weather events worldwide. 

Monthly volume of original tweets and replies between 1 June 2022 and 31 October 2023 containing #Climate Scam [purple], #ClimateCrisis [yellow] and #ClimateEmergency [pink] respectively. Some posts cited more than one hashtag; in such instances, these were counted once in each category.

The report found that the popularity in #ClimateScam appears to be driven by a small group of accounts that have seen their audience grow since Elon Musk took X private. For example, one account grew from just 322 followers from their first #ClimateScam post in March to over 2,56,000 followers now, the report added. 

Monetising climate misinformation

The report found 15 websites that publish popular climate misinformation are profiting from this activity, thanks to monetisation via 157 advertising exchanges. Climate misinformation content from websites like The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Wire, Breitbart and Sky News Australia achieve substantial reach on social media, including articles that refer to climate change as a ‘hoax’ or fundamentally reject the scientific consensus. Such content is being monetised through advertising on their websites.

Many ad exchanges servicing these websites, including Google, Amazon, Criteo and OpenX, have explicit policies meant to prohibit publishers from accessing their ad products if content they host contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change or repeatedly includes false or misleading claims.

However, the report revealed, many brands aligned with decarbonisation appear next to these articles, most likely without their knowledge and against their stated corporate values.

Climate discussions being used by Russia-backed accounts to influence narrative on Ukraine invasion

According to the report, Russian State media accounts—posting in English, French, German and Spanish—do not have consistent messaging on climate science, climate action or energy supply. Instead, they instrumentalise these topics to strengthen their influence campaigns targeting Western countries and the Global South respectively.  Russian State accounts are treating the need to decarbonise disingenuously, using climate change and energy geopolitics as ways to control the narrative on other issues (including its full-scale invasion of Ukraine).

Further analysis revealed that outputs from Russian state media appeared to target countries in Africa and Latin America with messaging around the need for Russian-backed fossil fuel expansion. For almost all topics related to climate and energy, Russian media tend to ‘play both sides’, adapting their framing to benefit political allies (e.g. Iran, China) and condemn political opponents (e.g. the US, EU Member States).

Commenting on the report, Jennie King, Head of Climate Research and Policy at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and CAAD Intelligence Lead, said, “The world is grappling with an environmental crisis compounded by an information crisis. 2023 is set to be the hottest year on record, yet the urgent climate action we need is beset by denialism and viral campaigns that reject the scientific consensus. Such content not only undermines public support, but increasingly erodes trust in institutions and is producing violent outcomes. The professionalised efforts of the fossil fuel lobby are now intersecting with State-sponsored PR, online grifters and commercial disinformers. We must recognise the threat of mis- and disinformation for what it is—a barrier to cohesion, to action, and to a liveable future for all.”