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Climate obstruction and Facebook advertising: how a sample of climate obstruction organizations use social media to disseminate discourses of delay

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In this article, we present the results of a content analysis of a sample of fossil fuel corporations, industry associations, and advocacy groups’ ads using Facebook ad services during the election year from January 2020 to January 2021. Creating a messaging typology, we analyzed 30,100 ads on Facebook and found that different organizations used these messages to reinforce pre-existing beliefs on the importance of fossil fuels. In doing so, these organizations can use Facebook to reassert their interests in the public voice and support standards of behavior that rely on fossil fuels, protecting their industries. Additionally, we found differences between the types of messaging and ads targeted to particular users by age, gender, and state. These ads represent the evolving misinformation playbook from climate obstruction organizations that require further attention and consideration, particularly via social media platforms that may have limited or unclear regulations.

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Data availability

All data is available to download from the Facebook API Library. Specific data used in the analysis is available on request.


  1. Deliberative democracy here refers to the inclusive public deliberation process that aims to reach consensual decisions through democratic participation and decision making in a liberal democracy.

  2. Facebook launched its Ad Library in May 2018 following controversy over the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s role in elections. The disclosure platform allows users to view the content of all active ads, as well as past political and issue ads, across Facebook’s platforms (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger).

  3. In the case where multiple Facebook pages disclosed having the same funder in Facebook’s “disclaimer byline” field, they were treated as being the same advertiser.

  4. Miller and Lellis’ fourth category was Resilience. In their study, participants identified resilience with the idea of a “fighting spirit” and “the underdog.” The other aspect of resilience participants recognized was the economic benefit of having the industry around contributed to the financial resilience of people “who had been hard hit by the economy.” Concerning the sample of ads used in our study, the theme “Resilience” was more aligned to both the categories “Patriotism” and “Community” rather than be distinguishable and separate. As such, we did not generate a new category for “Resilience” and instead combined these under the two categories of Patriotism and Community.

  5. It is important to note that in practice, there is no “right” number of what constitutes a good intercoder reliability score. For comparing clinical diagnoses, a very high kappa value may be required, while for the social sciences, a lower kappa value may be more acceptable. In addition, the more codes are available, the lower intercoder reliability is likely to be (O’Connor and Jaffe 2020).


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Data collection, data analysis, and creation of tables were completed by SM, MNL, JC, and FH. Initial article draft was developed by FH and RM. Proofs, amendments, and recommendations were reviewed by the team.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ruth E. McKie.

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Secondary data analysis. No ethics applicable.

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This research did not involve the data collection from human and non-human participants.

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Consent was provided for the submission and publication of the manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The data in this paper was originally taken from the work of Influence Map, a UK-based non-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) and a US-based 501c3 charity. The construction of the manuscript was undertaken by Dr. Ruth McKie that declares no biases or conflicts of interest.

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Holder, F., Mirza, S., Namson-Ngo-Lee et al. Climate obstruction and Facebook advertising: how a sample of climate obstruction organizations use social media to disseminate discourses of delay. Climatic Change 176, 16 (2023).

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