Greenwashers beware: There’s now a bot trawling social media sites for bogus statements on climate change.
Called Eco-Bot.Net, the system has already exposed the most heavy handed greenwashers. Of the world’s top 100 emitters – the “carbon majors” – ExxonMobil, CEMEX, Shell and Teck are putting out the lion’s share of the 1705 greenwashing ads that have run globally on Facebook and Instagram this year.
ExxonMobil has developed a real taste for climate obfuscation, throwing a cool $4 million into misleading Facebook and Instagram ads that got seven times as many impressions as the next biggest actor, CEMEX.
According to the first “data drop” from the bot, which is a “net art-research project” that launched last week to coincide with COP26, the bulk of ExxonMobile’s ads have been targeted at New York, which is planning to phase out natural gas soon. The fossil fuel giant is using language like this to influence opinions: “ENERGY ACTION ALERT: A ban on natural gas could limit consumer choice and potentially increase energy costs across the state”.
The Eco-Bot.Net system, which is the product of 18 months’ work by UK-based artist-researcher Bill Posters, Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, activist Dale Vince and a collection of lawyers, journalists, technologists and activists, works by collecting corporate greenwashing ads on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Ads that have been identified as dubious are then assessed and verified by an inhouse team of journalists. These findings are then visualised online and flagged on the social media platforms where they were found.
The bot has done a good job of catching out the major carbon emitters but the chief purpose of the project is to prod the social media giants to limit the spread of climate disinformation like it does Covid disinformation.
“Mark Zuckerberg is a climate change disinfo pusher. We could say the same thing for Jack Dorsey. Why? Because they both retain sole control or huge influence over the policies on their platforms that amplify and normalise climate disinformation for profit,” Bill Posters said, who is an artist-researcher, author and activist.
“If they want to retain control or influence then they must be held accountable. They could easily end most of the harms associated from climate disinformation on their platforms if they wanted to.
“We built this flagging system to ask the question: ‘If they can protect people from harms caused by Covid-19 disinfo, then why can’t they do the same for the climate?’”
Partners include the Centre for Analysis of Social Media’s CASM Technology team, the Institute of Strategic Dialogue and ad.watch, and is supported by Arts Council England.
Expect more data drops on other polluting industries as COP26 progresses. It’s unclear if the bot will continue “defending the digital environment” after the conference finishes.