Facebook does almost 98% of its billions and billions of dollars of targeted advertising. The company did not hesitate to withdraw advertising funds from bad reputation sources– including the oil industry.
A new study from InfluenceMap, a think tank dedicated to shine a light on Big Oil Marketing Strategies, shows how much money Big Oil spends. According to the group, companies like Exxon and Shell spent $ 9.6 million last year on advertising on Facebook’s platform. Over 25,000 ads run by companies fueling the climate crisis, but the underlying narrative was largely the same: Big Oil isn’t the bad guy you might have heard of. (To be clear, he is the bad guy.)
Naturally, Facebook ads aren’t the only place these companies try to push these kinds of stories. We saw oil companies press influencers through (another Facebook property) Instagram to post photos of their vehicles filling up at major gas stations. We’ve seen oil giants use their Twitter accounts to gas lamp users believing that climate change is a problem for people to solve.
When it comes to Facebook ads, however, InfluenceMap was able to narrow down the messaging used by oil companies in their 25,174 ad dataset into four different categories. The first and largest group, accounting for 48% of the ads in the dataset, were ads that attempted to portray oil and gas as “part of the solution” to climate change as a whole. This is an argument we have seen from big oil suppliers like Shell and PA turns more and more to, despite the fact that he wrong. So wrong.
Equally false is the next biggest chunk of ads these companies run (accounting for 31% of the InfluenceMap dataset): the idea that oil and gas is more “affordable” or “reliable” than other sources of fuel, such as wind and solar. Again it’s fair in fact wrong. In total, these companies spent $ 6.25 million on messages that can be disproved by … anyone who doesn’t work for an oil company.
InfluenceMap grouped the remaining ads into two more clusters: Ads that either tried to convince people that Big Oil was good for the global economy and the job market, or tried to push the idea that dependence on oil and gas was a surefire way to establish the United States as a “leader” in the energy market. In other words, the ads on Facebook don’t scream “Big Oil isn’t killing the planet”, but they do. do shout “Big Oil may be killing the planet … but also look at all the benefits it brings!” ”
It is a much more nuanced approach than the categorical denial companies like Exxon, Chevron and Shell have used it for so long to keep the public confused and profits afloat. But that doesn’t make these ads any less harmful. Allowing oil companies to present themselves in a good light gives them an operating license. And if there is one thing report after report and extreme climate disaster after extreme climate disaster It has made it clear that this cannot happen if we want a safe climate.
Despite Facebook’s promises to help stop climate change and misinformation to circulate on its platform, much of that review doesn’t seem to apply to ads. In fact, a lot of Facebook own advertising rules does not seem to apply either; there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of ads missed in the search. The InfluenceMap dataset only includes ads in which oil companies disclosed their relationship to the topic as part of Facebook policies for “announcements on social or political issues”. But researchers were able to find a good handful of listings among the names mentioned above that did not have any sort of disclaimer whatsoever. It was only after researchers warned Facebook before releasing the report that the company bothered to take action against the administrators of that company’s pages. As for the action taken, Facebook was … vague. According to the report:
Facebook informed InfluenceMap on July 31, 2021 that it has taken action against the administrators of some of the Pages belonging to the entities identified in this report. These actions include, but are not limited to, removing infringing advertisements and restricting users’ ability to advertise on our platform. Facebook did not specify against which entities these actions were carried out, for which advertisements, nor the time frame in which this occurred.
In other words, Facebook will continue to rely on all of us for its moderation efforts, but will not give us any transparency on how these moderation efforts work. Overall, Big Oil will continue to fall through the cracks, Facebook is making millions, and we must bear the brunt of it.