As the country was racked by a number of wildfires in the form of unprecedented, unprecedented, unprecedented wildfires, it only took a few hours for climate deniers to ramp up their social media posts in an effort to stir up controversy and discourage interested residents from evacuating.
Facebook’s Community Operations team responded in a timely manner to users trying to use the platform to promote or share misinformation about the current dangerous and destructive fire situation. The organization informed all users that its team would be actively monitoring posts that appeared on the site that “may spread rumors or misinformation.”
Within several hours, Facebook had removed 82 comments (including a handful of shared links) that had been deemed to have misinformation about the current situation in Australia. According to a release by Facebook, the posts had attempted to distance people from evacuating and shared posts that “spoke of ‘suspicious fires’ in southern Victoria state” and “made unrelated references to recent fires and in some cases fire safety.” The posts have since been removed and no further information has been given as to why or why not.
Screenshot from one of the removed Facebook posts.
Facebook clearly has no problem selectively removing posts or comments related to emergencies, but when it comes to climate change denialism, this could be construed as nothing short of a conspiracy. In recent days, Facebook has been well known for removing much needed public information regarding the deadly wildfires that took the lives of at least 116 people in Victoria.
The deadliest fire in Australia’s history, the popular tourist attraction of the Great Ocean Road was destroyed, with thousands of homes and belongings destroyed. Alongside the 100-plus confirmed deaths, no fewer than 160 people remain missing after the fire ripped through the region.
The deaths occurred during extreme heat conditions, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees in the region. According to scientists, climate change has led to increasingly severe and volatile weather conditions. Many people attempting to flee the disaster encountered heavy traffic jams and gridlocked traffic on the roads towards the wildfires.
There were huge exclusion zones established by fire services for the uninformed and believed to be easily confused by geography that appeared on-screen, with smoke featured prominently. There was also a large gap between the boundary of evacuation zones and the actual evacuation zones, making a distance map very difficult to track and distributing the updates could have been done more efficiently.
Four of Australia’s highest public servants are under investigation for the refusal to evacuate tens of thousands of people from towns near the wildfires in Victoria on New Year’s Eve. While the four “principal planners” are yet to speak publicly, a number of Australian politicians are not happy with the decision to keep people in place and believes it could have saved lives.