Online has become a battlefield for free speech. Tech platforms are now Supported illiberal regimes to censor posts while flagging “False information” in free countries. We all share a legitimate interest in avoiding outright falsehoods, but much censorship today — whether at dictators’ behest or in the name of eradicating “misinformation” — ultimately is about restricting discourse to a narrow corridor of the politically acceptable. This makes it difficult to identify smart policies.
This is particularly concerning for important issues such as climate change. Global warming is real. However, social-media giants — Facebook in particular — are going far beyond censoring people for denying its existence.
Facebook Monitors what people say about climate change in 100 countries and uses third-party fact-checkers to identify misinformation for flagging or removal.
Here’s something Facebook’s censors deemed unacceptable: I wrote a comment using the latest peer-reviewed research from the medical journal Lancet on deaths caused by heat and cold. The paper is the only one to show that worldwide, half a billion people die each year from heat exhaustion, while 4.5 millions die from cold. The cold is responsible for nine times more deaths than heat.
I ran afoul of Facebook’s fact-checkers for noting that over the past 20 years, our higher temperatures, which we would expect from global warming, have increased heat deaths and decreased cold deaths. I calculated the net effect in terms of saved lives every year and was flagged for “misinformation.”
I must cite one of the following to avoid social media censorship. study’s lead authors instead of putting it in my own words. As that author stated, from 2000 to 2019, “Earth’s temperature increased by 0.26 degree Centigrade per decade. This led to a reduction in cold-related deaths of 0.51%, and an increase in heat related mortality of 0.21%. A reduction in mortality net due to hot and cold temperatures.”
It’s worth considering why this is deemed “misinformation.” Clearly, it cannot be climate-change denial to highlight The effects of rising temperatures. It rather seems that the facts are muzzled because they don’t fit into activist-approved talking points, which frame climate change as an overwhelming, always-worsening crisis everywhere, with no exceptions.
By labeling this evidence “misinformation,” Facebook suppresses crucial facts that could help us identify the best policies to reduce future heat and cold deaths while reining in global warming effectively — which surely should be the goal.
Another example of censorship was when I wrote about electric vehicles. Recent example of censorship was when I wrote about electric vehicles. Nature article reaffirms that electric cars emit less CO₂ than conventional cars. Unfortunately, large batteries can make electric cars heavier and more likely to injure other motorists in accidents. The Nature piece weighed the benefit from less CO₂ against more accident deaths. It found that climate benefits outweigh the accident costs in countries with very clean energy like Norway and Canada but not in less green countries like America, Germany and Japan.
This is a fascinating study. Facebook flagged me when I noted the authors had curiously measured CO₂ benefits at $150 per ton — higher than almost any country prices any (let alone all) emissions. The current global average price per tonne is $2. At any realistic price — or even at the still-sky-high price of $100 — the study would show traffic-death costs outweigh climate benefits Everywhere.
How this point is “misinformation” is extremely difficult to fathom. The obvious conclusion is that it didn’t fit into an acceptable narrative to show that, even if the world had 100% renewable energy, electric-vehicle climate advantages would be outweighed in traffic deaths.
Disturbingly, Facebook’s vice president has admitted fact-checkers are not necessarily objective, and the company even acknowledged recently in a lawsuit that fact-check tags are “opinion,” not factual assertions. This is my personal experience.
Some activists demand even more censorship. They’ve praised researchers for inventing an artificial-intelligence tool allowing social-media platforms to delete climate-change “misinformation” in real time. It is absurd that the AI tool has such narrow views of acceptability that many mainstream scientific findings will be deleted.
It is obvious that all this censorship is centered on one side: Activists. Claim climate-change effects are far worse than they really are, with little or no suppression. In other words: Convenient facts can be blocked, but exaggerations and mistruths thrive.
This is especially concerning because it makes it harder to identify good policies. Bank of America has found current global action to achieve net-zero emissions will cost the world $5 trillion every year for the next three decades — more than all nations and households spend on Education every year.
Silencing inconvenient truths makes us less well-informed, and can lead to us spending a lot of money without the right perspective.
Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus and visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. His latest book is “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet.”