Social media

Social networks, a new battleground for brand climate misinformation

Social media appears to be the new frontier of climate misinformation and deception, as two-thirds of oil and gas (72%), automotive (60%) and airline (60%) companies use social media to paint a story of ‘green innovation’. on their businesses. According to a study carried out by Greenpeace for the European market, this “green/dirty” ratio in the public communications of each industry misrepresents the commitments of companies in terms of decarbonization.

Additionally, about one in five positions at oil and gas (23%), automotive (22%) and airline (15%) companies are related to sports, social causes or fashion. Calling it “hijacking,” the study says it involves focusing public attention on engaging topics unrelated to companies’ core business activities. This can in various ways legitimize the social license to operate of fossil fuel interests, distract from core corporate commercial responsibilities and contributions to the climate crisis; and market the brands as exclusive, desirable and relevant, the report says.

“We interpret greenwashing by the fossil fuel industry as the most egregious, while that of the airlines is particularly subtle,” the study says. Statistical analysis also revealed that fossil fuel interests consistently use nature-evoking imagery to enhance the “greenness” of their social media branding.

Additionally, companies (especially automakers) leverage not only nature imagery, but also people featuring women, people featuring non-binary people, people featuring non-Caucasian people, youth, experts, athletes and celebrities to boost their image. “green innovation” and/or “misdirection” messages.

The study announces that while, in the past, corporations “backed by public relations firms have collectively waged a decades-long, multibillion-dollar campaign of lobbying, disinformation and propaganda” to sow confusion in the public mind and “undermining climate and clean energy”, over time their tactics and rhetoric have evolved and become digital. There has been a shift from ‘blunt climate denial in newspapers and television to ‘subtler talking points’ on social media and in native advertising on news websites.

As part of the study, between June 1 and July 31, 2022, Greenpeace collected 33,969 organic social media posts from 22 EU-based companies with fossil fuel interests, via 375 network accounts. on five platforms (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube).

For each social media account, a combination of methods was used to extract each social media post, including text, image and video files, and social media engagement data. Data from Facebook and Instagram was collected using Meta’s CrowdTangle social listening tool. Twitter’s data was collected using a combination of the Twitter Public API and the Twitter PushShift API. YouTube data was collected using the YouTube public API, and TikTok data was directly pulled from the platform and leveraged using a data API third party.

The posts analyzed in this report were organic content because the ads are considered paid promotions, where an advertiser can target audiences based on demographics and other criteria, and are subject to content rules and stricter disclosure requirements.

“However, the distinction between ads and organic content can be misleading,” the report says. “Any corporate communication content posted on social media is, by definition, paid for by the company in question, whether or not it paid the platform to promote it. Additionally, a key objective of some social media ads is to build an audience, so that future organic posts will reach audiences without additional paid promotion.

Special cases of false declarations

The report says that automakers’ hijacking messages are generally more squarely focused on sports (63%), and motor racing in particular (56%), but 29% of ‘hijacking’ messages also relate to fashion. and design. Airline “hijacking” messages are dominated by talk about fashion and design (54%), LGBTQIA+ issues (22%) and sports (14%).

greenpeace airline

Meanwhile, there are also different levels of diversity of “green innovation” messaging across the three industries. Airlines are “greening” their image mainly with nature/environment visuals. They also discuss their plans/initiatives (8%) and low-emission aircraft (9%). Car manufacturers do the same with 64% of their “green innovation” posts displaying nature/environment visuals, but to the same extent also communicate on sustainable transport (60%), mainly by highlighting electric vehicle products ( 36%) and vehicle emissions data (32%) and claiming linguistic effectiveness (7%).

greeninnovationgreen car innovation

Fossil fuel producers have a wider spread of “green” speech than other industries, with the most common textual speech being plans/initiatives (42% of “green innovation” messages). The most common imagery contains clean energy solutions (42%), nature/environment (56%), and innovation/labs/scientific iconography (10%/7%/9%, respectively) ).


More recently, sustainability rating platform Wherefrom published a slew of Mercedes-Benz ads promoting Mercedes-EQ, its line of electric cars. Hence the automaker’s call for greenwashing after Mercedes-Benz associated its brand with the beauty of nature in its ads. The original ads showed images of nature ranging from a rose to leaf veins, honeycomb and lightning bolts. A circle is placed in the middle of the ads to highlight the Mercedes-Benz symbol.

Mercedes-Benz later clarified that its series of ads that sparked greenwashing discussions were not a global brand campaign. Instead, the images were located on social media by Mercedes-Benz Mexico for Earth Day in April this year.

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