As the global economy continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, insufficient oil supply and the war in Ukraine have increased the price of crude oil, and gas prices have followed suit. On Facebook, right-wing pages are pushing a false narrative of American “energy independence” to shift the blame for high gas prices to the Biden administration and promote an ineffective, anti-science, pro-fossil fuel agenda. Misinformation on this topic is spreading on the platform, and the majority of posts go unflagged by Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners.
Facebook claims to reduce the distribution of posts with climate change misinformation through its fact-checking partnerships, though it does not remove climate change misinformation posts unless they violate its Community Standards. These organizations -- certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter -- can label misinformation, and posts with such labels are apparently pushed lower in the news feed. Facebook also says that pages, groups, or accounts that repeatedly share misinformation can face penalties, such as losing the ability to advertise or monetize posts or being tagged with pop-up warnings indicating that the account often shares misinformation. However, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and numerous media accountability reports have revealed that not only is Facebook’s policy incoherent and ineffective — as many posts go unlabeled — but the platform’s algorithm also appears to push users toward climate change denial content, pages, and groups.
In our latest study, Media Matters looked at Facebook pages that consistently spread climate or energy-related misinformation from September 1, 2021, through April 1, 2022, and found these pages were overwhelmingly ideologically right-leaning. We identified the 100 top Facebook posts with the most interactions (likes, comments, shares) that contained climate change and energy-related misinformation and found many posts used the energy independence narrative to push misinformation about gas prices.
- The top 100 Facebook posts with the most interactions (likes, comments, shares) that contain climate change and energy-related misinformation earned 5.2 million interactions.
- Only 2 posts had a misinformation fact-checking label for failing to provide context and misusing the term “energy independence.” These posts earned 176,000 interactions combined.
- Among the top 100 posts, 37 other posts made similarly false arguments about “energy independence,” yet none were labeled. These posts earned a total of 1.5 million interactions.
- High gas prices were the key driver of misinformation for 41 out of the top 100 posts. These posts accounted for 1.8 million interactions.
- Among these, 14 posts (34%) argued for increased fossil fuel extraction, production, and infrastructure in addition to misusing the term “energy independence.”
Misinformation fact-checking labels were applied to only 2 of dozens of “energy independence” posts
For years, Fox News has used the term “energy independence” to describe a situation where the U.S. could increase domestic fossil fuel production enough to isolate itself from the volatility of oil and gas prices caused by geopolitical instability. Recent misinformation on Facebook adopts these talking points, claiming that the U.S. was previously energy independent and is now dealing with high gas prices due to the Biden administration’s policies.
In reality, the U.S. was a net exporter of energy in 2021 and produced more energy than it consumed while Biden was president, fitting a widely accepted definition of energy independence. But whether or not a country is a net exporter of energy, gas prices are shaped by global supply and demand, not the actions of a single government.
The misinformation we found on Facebook prevents users from obtaining a full understanding of this concept, especially when there is no readily available fact check that users can access. Out of the top 100 misinformation posts Media Matters examined, just 2 had fact-checking labels. These posts earned 176,000 interactions combined.
Graham’s labeled post claims that “the United States had the strongest economy in over 70 years — and we were energy independent. Now we are dangerously dependent on other countries again — buying 7 percent of our oil from Russia.” The post earned 132,000 interactions and was the fifth-most popular post out of the 100 Media Matters looked at between September 1, 2021 and April 1, 2022.
Facebook’s label indicates that the post has missing context, specifically that it “misled on energy independence.” The fact check links to an article by Agence France-Presse, one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners.
The other post which also has a missing-context label is a video from the Facebook page Media Research Center TV. The title of the video, “Killing Keystone: How Biden and The Far Left Destroyed American Energy Independence,” is a false claim in and of itself. Media Research Center, which describes itself as a right-wing media watchdog, has long denied the scientific consensus on climate change and receives funding from the fossil fuel industry. The Facebook label on the post cites misleading information on energy independence, linking to the same AFP article. The post has 44,000 interactions.
Facebook failed to consistently label similar high-performing posts as “energy independence” misinformation
It’s clear these two posts breach Facebook’s fact-checking policy. However, our research identified 37 other posts earning 1.5 million combined interactions that made very similar statements regarding energy independence. None of these other posts were flagged with a missing-context label.
For example, on March 6, Fox News posted a graphic with a quote from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), presented as fact. The post claims that Scott claimed the Biden administration is preventing the U.S. from being energy independent because it has considered the possibility of sourcing oil from Venezuela or Iran rather than increasing domestic drilling. Compared to Franklin Graham’s labeled post, this post is similarly misleading, pushing the same message about how the president’s energy policies have impacted energy independence. And yet, this post, which earned 55,000 interactions, has not received a label.
Another example is a March 10 post from Mike Rowe. Rowe has hosted the TV series Six Degrees, which is sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute and contains fossil fuel propaganda in every episode. Rowe’s nonprofit has also received funding from Koch Industries. In the post, which accompanies a pro-fossil fuel episode of Rowe’s web series Good Questions, Rowe writes: “One minute, America was a net exporter of oil and natural gas. The next minute, we’re back to buying oil from despots and sheiks, with gas prices at an all-time high. Honest question - Why would we allow energy independence to slip through our fingers?”
Again, the post creates a misunderstanding of energy independence, suggesting that the U.S. cannot be energy independent while importing oil from other countries and that the U.S. is no longer a net exporter of energy. Both claims are false. This post earned 30,000 interactions. Even though the misinformation in Rowe’s post mirrors the misinformation in the other labeled posts, it lacks a fact-check label.
High gas prices have been a key driver of climate change and energy-related Facebook misinformation since 2021.
Media Matters found high gas prices have been a key driver of Facebook misinformation not just since Russia invaded Ukraine, but for the entire seven-month period Media Matters examined, starting September 2021. In total, 41 out of the top 100 posts were in response to the pain Americans are feeling at the pump and while buying everyday goods. These posts accounted for 1.8 million interactions.
The right has repeatedly blamed this crisis on various Biden administration policies despite a lack of evidence supporting that claim. The decision to cancel the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline was cited in 30 of the top 100 posts as a main culprit behind high gas prices. A March survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that in reality, oil companies aren’t drilling because of pressure from investors to reliably return profits through dividends and stock buybacks instead of investing in new production. Biden also approved more permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in his first year than the Trump administration did in its first year. As for the Keystone XL pipeline extension, experts have pointed out that it would do virtually nothing to lower gas prices in the short term. Nonetheless, 34% of posts about high gas prices also argued for increased fossil fuel extraction, production, and infrastructure to further U.S. energy independence.
The right has consistently used loaded language like “energy independence” to defend fossil fuels despite their harmful impacts on human health, geopolitics, and the economy. Meanwhile, right-wing media and influencers spread misinformation about the viability of renewable energy, and even inaccurately blamed the shortcomings of fossil fuel infrastructure on wind energy during the Texas winter storm and power outages in February 2021. Understanding how the global energy market works could help media consumers understand that renewable energy can move the country closer to self-reliance, and that there is legislation moving with the aim of making that happen. As climate advocates have pointed out, transitioning to renewable energy is the only way for countries to achieve this sort of freedom from the fluctuations of the global fossil-fuel system in which we are deeply entrenched.
Even while Facebook managed to label 2 posts, these labels can only have a limited impact when they are so vastly outnumbered by disinformation across media. With midterm elections approaching, the Biden administration has broken a key climate campaign promise by reopening federal lands for new oil and gas drilling lease sales. The move is unlikely to help with high gas prices in the short term and is in direct conflict with the International Energy Agency’s pathway to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Voters must be equipped with accurate information about the conditions that created high gas prices. According to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, 71% of Americans blame Putin a “great deal” or a “good amount” for the increases in gas prices. However, the poll also found that 52% blame the price increases on Democratic Party policies, and 51% blame Biden. Facebook’s failure to uphold its own policies and crack down on misinformation is having real consequences and influencing how Americans view both this crisis and the role that fossil fuels should play in our economic future.
Using Crowdtangle, Media Matters compiled a list of Facebook pages that post climate change and energy-related misinformation since December 2021, yielding 140 pages. These pages fit at least one of the following criteria at the time they were added to the list:
- Pages that posted climate or energy-related misinformation at least once every two weeks.
- Pages with a stated purpose of opposing the established science of climate change that also posted at least once a month.
Nearly all are ideologically right-leaning, in that they fit the relevant criteria laid out by Media Matters.
The researchers then compiled all of the posts from these pages between September 1, 2021, and April 1, 2022. We found that 126 pages posted content that contained climate change or energy-related keywords during the time period studied. The researchers then determined which posts contained climate change or energy-related misinformation and further analyzed the top 100 posts with the most interactions.
We labeled posts as climate misinformation if they fit at least one of the following criteria:
- Undermined the existence or impacts of climate change, the unequivocal human influence on climate change, and/or the need for corresponding urgent action according to the IPCC scientific consensus and in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement;
- Misrepresented scientific data, including by omission or cherry-picking, in a seeming effort to erode trust in climate science, climate-focused institutions, experts, and/or solutions;
- Falsely publicized efforts as supportive of climate goals that in fact contribute to climate warming or contravene the scientific consensus on mitigation or adaptation.
We defined posts as being related to or about energy or climate change if a post had any of the following terms in the message, the included link, article headline, or article description:“climate change,” “global warming,” “blame climate change,” “blame global warming,” “climate alarmism,” “climate alarmists,” “climate change hoax,” “climate hysteria,” “climate change panic,” “climate hoax,” ”climate panic," “climate fearmongering,” “climate deception,” “climate lies,” “agw fraud,” “agw hoax,” “#climatefraud,” “#fakeweather,” “#climatebrawl,” “#gretathunbergexposed,” “#noclimateemergency,” “#smartdust,” “#climatescam,” “#globalwarmingfraud,” “#cloudseeding,” “#stopchemtrails,” “#climateconspiracy,” “#chematrailawareness,” “#forcedclimatechange,” “#weathercontrol,” “#globalcooling,” “#climatehoax,” “#climatecult,” “#carbonkleptomania,” “#alarmism,” “Green New Deal,” “VCEA,” “Virginia Clean Economy Act,” “Climate change,” “net-zero,” “net zero,” “emissions,” “energy,” “carbon,” “Build Back Better,” “BBB,” “climate bill,” “social welfare spending,” “social spending bill,” “climate agenda,” “social spending package,” “climate spending agenda,” “anti-china bill,” “china bill,” “America Concedes,” “Paris Agreement” “Paris Climate Agreement” “Paris Climate Accords,” “EV,” EVs,” “electric vehicle,” “electric vehicles,” “electric car,” “electric cars,” “electric bus,” “electric bus fleet,” “electric trucks,” “electric truck.” “net zero,” “net-zero,” “solar power,” “solar panels,” “wind turbine,” “windmills,” “renewable energy,” “renewables,” “green energy,” “clean energy,” “battery storage,” “baseload,” “power grid,” “energy grid,” “forced electrification,” “intermittency,” “energy costs,” “rising energy costs,” “rising energy prices,” “biden energy policy,” “biden energy policies,” “biden energy costs,” “biden energy prices,” “energy inflation,” “gas prices,” “high energy costs,” “higher energy costs,” “keystone,” “Keystone XL,” “energy security,” “energy independence,” “affordable energy,” “reliable energy,” “energy independent.” “woke capital,” “BlackRock,” “woke capitalism,” “boycott,” “divestment,” “ESG,” “energy,” “fossil fuels,” “oil,” “gas,” “natural gas,” “China,” “polluter,” “pollution,” “emissions,” “carbon,” “COP,” “COP27,” “#FLOP26,” “FLOP26,” “global elites,” “elites,” “private jets,” “globalists,” “hypocrites,” “waste,” “failure,” “climate hypocrisy,” “the great reset,” “authoritarianism,” “authoritarian,” “climate,” “climate lockdown.” “climate lock down,” “democracy,” “climate emergency,” “climate crisis.”