A US activist group has slammed YouTube for allowing climate denial videos to profit on its platform.
Avaaz undertook a study to learn how Google is shaping climate change discourse as we approach the 11-year deadline set out by the UN – the so-called point of no return to undo manmade climate change. It found that ads from major brands such as Samsung, L’Oreal and Danone had appeared next to a host of climate disinformation videos.
According to the non-profit's research, 16% of the top 100 related videos for the search term ‘global warming’ contained misinformation, with an average of over 1m views per video for the top ten most-viewed.
Julie Deruy, senior campaigner at Avaaz, said: "YouTube is the largest broadcasting channel in the world, and it is driving millions of people to climate misinformation videos.
"This is not about free speech, this is about the free advertising YouTube is giving to factually inaccurate videos that risk confusing people about one of the biggest crises of our time.
"The bottom line is that YouTube should not feature, suggest, promote, advertise or lead users to misinformation."
The group credited steps made by YouTube on anti-vaccination and conspiracy theory content and asked for the same measures to be applied against broader misinformation and disinformation content, including climate misinformation. It suggested working with fact-checkers to determine misinformation before demonetising offenders and removing them from recommendation engines.
Avaaz asked additional questions about how YouTube’s recommendation engines are lining up videos that can misinform readers on climate change.
It said Google's global warming info panels surfaced on the majority of the videos Avaaz deems to be climate misinformation. Some 3.5m impressions have hit those information panels since June 2018.
Misinformation does not breach YouTube policies, it can only be removed when if it breaches hate speech, harassment, violence or scam rules.
A YouTube spokesperson pointed out that its recommendations systems are not designed to filter or demote videos or channels based on specific perspectives.
They said: “YouTube has strict ad policies that govern where ads are allowed to appear and we give advertisers tools to opt out of content that doesn’t align with their brand. We’ve also significantly invested in reducing recommendations of borderline content and harmful misinformation, and raising up authoritative voices on YouTube. In 2019 alone, the consumption on authoritative news publishers’ channels grew by 60%.
“As our systems appear to have done in the majority of cases in this report, we prioritise authoritative voices for millions of news and information queries, and surface information panels on topics prone to misinformation -- including climate change – to provide users with context alongside their content. We continue to expand these efforts to more topics and countries.”
It included ad-supported videos created by news organizations like Fox News and Ideacity. YouTube argues that it is important for it to allow the discourse around the topic. Contextually there are governments around the world led by climate deniers, putting the organization in a trickier position. It claimed that advertisers can exclude their ads from videos related to climate change and global warming.
In response to the research, the Conscious Advertising Network questioned whether there “has ever been a more dangerous form of misinformation?”
A spokesperson said: “An economic model based on the possible collapse of society. In the year that the UK hosts COP26 the urgency to base the narrative on truth has never been clearer. We call on everyone in the advertising ecosystem to step up and take responsibility right now, starting with a long hard look at where their advertising is going and funding.”
L’Oréal issued a comment.
"The information promoted by these videos is in direct contradiction with L’Oréal's commitments and the work we have been carrying out for many years to protect the environment. We are collaborating with YouTube teams asking them to use all the technological means at their disposal to better inform the platform’s users about the nature of these videos and to limit their impact."