350.org On Challenging Facebook’s Fossil Fuel Advertising Profits

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By Liam J. Kelly

If you aren’t familiar with 350.org, the group is a grassroots movement pursuing a fossil-free future via international collaboration. Along with preventing the construction of any new crude energy projects, the group is also a strong proponent of a transfer to a society based 100% on renewable energy. Indeed, the scope is vast, but the team behind the project has found some interesting ways to pursue these ends.

Image: 350.org Fossil Free Facebook screenshot

In speaking with its European Digital Campaigner, Matilda Borgstrom, CleanTechnica got a better understanding behind 350.org’s latest advance. As has been outlined on countless occasions, large tech conglomerates play a critical role in our day-to-day lives. Platforms like Facebook, for instance, help connect over 2.38 billion monthly active users. Thus, their social responsibility in everything from politics, news and even climate change is indisputable. Despite Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing his support for the Paris Climate Agreement, Facebook continues to take money from many fossil fuel companies via advertising. The social media giant also has a policy on banning the advertisement of tobacco, firearms, drugs and other life-threatening substances. So, why not fossil fuel companies and their advocates?

Covering this paradox has been the substance of two different articles at CleanTechnica, which can be found here and here. This is in part the impetus behind 350.org’s call for Facebook to ban fossil fuel advertising on its platform. As the architect behind the enterprise, CleanTechnica spoke with Borgstrom learn about the ideation of the campaign and why everyone should get behind the petition.

Could you explain a little more about the ideation process behind the recent call for Facebook to ban advertising fossil fuel corporations?

The call for Facebook to ban this kind of advertising was a natural progression of the fossil-free movement. We are looking to remove the social license that many fossil fuel companies have in our society. I like to think about it in terms of following the trajectory of the tobacco industry, where we as a society made it and its products into something that people and companies did not want to be associated with or accept money from. An interesting part for me on this question is how groups are working on removing the fossil industry’s social license in many different parts of society, e.g., the divestment movement for pensions and investment funds. We identified social media as a gap, where not as much work was being done despite people spending so much of their lives there. Few people, however, were aware of the role social media played in this. Many are still unaware that companies like Facebook are profiting from the advertisement of fossil fuel companies.

How can people get involved in supporting this movement, and what have the reactions been so far?

The campaign is still in its infancy and to get involved people can sign the petition and we’ll inform everyone about next steps. So far, the campaign has resonated on social media as many people find Facebook’s contradiction to be very problematic. We have yet to hear a response from Facebook since we started the campaign.

Do you know how much money Facebook makes for advertising fossil fuel companies?

As I’m sure that you’re already aware, it is very difficult to get the exact figures for how much Facebook makes from this. Indeed they have taken steps to be more transparent in terms of advertising, but the advertising database only reveals the sum if it is politically-related. Many of the fossil fuel companies’ ads are not classified as political by Facebook.

Should other technology companies, such as Google, also be held to a similar standard?

Yes, absolutely. I think Facebook is a good start because Zuckerberg has already spoken out about climate change. The company has also shown itself to be receptive to this kind of campaign. When GreenPeace launched its Unfriend Coal campaign, Facebook eventually reacted, although not entirely, to these demands. Success for our campaign would ultimately mean that Facebook bans all fossil-free advertising on its platform.

In what ways does this campaign align with the principles of 350.org?

350.org supports grassroots movements all over the planet, all working to withdraw the social license of the fossil fuel industry. This is what we’re trying to do with this campaign targeting Facebook: we want to make it clear that fossil fuel money is dirty money and if Facebook wants to show that they actually care about the climate, they shouldn’t think twice about banning fossil fuel ads.

When asked for a comment on the #FossilFreeFacebook campaign, Facebook has yet to respond at this time. Google has also yet to comment on the subject.

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