You don't have to look far to find misinformation about climate science continuing to spread online through prominent social media channels like YouTube. That's despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are driving the climate crisis.
Monetizing Misinformation<p>Examples of videos identified as containing climate misinformation include titles such as "ACTUAL SCIENTIST: Climate Change is a Hoax" and "CIA Whistleblower Speaks Out About Climate Engineering Vaccination Dangers and 911." Other videos feature interviews with climate science deniers, such as <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/patrick-moore" target="_blank">Patrick Moore</a>, and promote false claims that there is no evidence that CO2 emissions are the dominant cause of climate change (<a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers.pdf" target="_blank">there is and they are</a>).</p><p>Not all of the channels promoting misinformation are owned by pseudonymous individuals with fringe ideas. Some come from established media organizations such as Fox News and the conservative media nonprofit <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/prageru" target="_blank">PragerU</a>.</p><p>Avaaz uncovered these examples by reviewing over 5,000 videos using the search terms "global warming," "climate change," and "climate manipulation." The NGO found a number of videos containing misleading or false information for each search term.</p><p><span style="background-color: initial;">"</span>For the search term 'global warming,' 16 percent of the top 100 related videos included under the up-next feature had misinformation about climate change," the report states. The percentage of top 100 related videos with climate misinformation, promoted through YouTube's recommendation algorithm, dropped to 8 percent when the search term "climate change" was used. When the researchers typed in "climate manipulation," however, that percentage rose to 21 percent. According to Avaaz, the climate misinformation videos it reviewed had 21.1 million views collectively.</p>
Avaaz Recommends Further Action, Youtube Defends Its Policies<p>Avaaz acknowledged steps that YouTube and Google have taken to update the video platform's <a href="https://www.youtube.com/about/policies/#staying-safe" target="_blank">Community Guidelines</a> policy and fight disinformation. In 2015 YouTube initiated a campaign to help "change the way people discuss climate change," and climate-related videos now include a Wikipedia link to basic, definitive information on the term "global warming."</p><p>In February 2019 Google issued a <a href="https://www.blog.google/documents/37/How_Google_Fights_Disinformation.pdf" target="_blank">white paper on fighting disinformation</a>, stating: "We set out to prevent our systems from serving up content that could misinform users in a harmful way, particularly in domains that rely on veracity, such as science, medicine, news, or historical events." Google said it introduced a "higher bar" for the promotion of YouTube videos. YouTube has also updated its policies on the kind of content it prohibits and has taken steps to protect its users from exposure to misinformation on vaccine safety and conspiracy theories.</p>
The relative number and views of the top 100 videos found searching for "global warming" on YouTube and identifying those featuring climate misinformation. DeSmogBlog / Avaaz<p>But Avaaz says these actions are not enough.</p><p>"Climate misinformation threatens the health and safety of our societies and our planet. YouTube has taken notable strides to act against disinformation, but our research proves that more is needed," said Julie Deruy, senior campaigner at Avaaz. "YouTube can and should immediately move to include climate misinformation in the company's borderline content policy and allow advertisers to exclude their ads from videos with climate misinformation." (Borderline content refers to videos that walk the line of violating YouTube's terms of service and has been the <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/3/20992018/youtube-borderline-content-recommendation-algorithm-news-authoritative-sources" target="_blank">subject of much scrutiny</a>).</p><p>The Avaaz report outlines several recommendations, based on consultation with industry experts, advertisers, and legislators around the world. These recommendations, quoted here from the report, suggest the video platform: </p><ol><li><strong>Detox the YouTube Recommendation Algorithms</strong>: The company must end its free promotion of misinformation and disinformation videos by extracting such videos from its algorithms, starting immediately by including climate misinformation in its borderline content policy.</li><li><strong>Demonetize Disinformation</strong>: Add disinformation and misinformation to YouTube's relevant monetization policies, ensuring such content does not include advertising and is not financially incentivized. YouTube should start immediately with the option for advertisers to exclude their ads from videos with climate misinformation.</li><li><strong>Correct the Record</strong>: Work with independent fact-checkers to inform users who have seen or interacted with verifiably false or misleading information, and issue corrections alongside these videos.</li><li><strong>Transparency</strong>: Although YouTube promises to work openly with researchers, the company maintains an opaque process around its recommendation algorithms and on how effective its policies are in dealing with misinformation. YouTube should immediately release data showing the amount of views on misinformation content that were driven by its recommendation algorithms. YouTube must also work with researchers to ensure access to its recommendation algorithms to study misinformation.</li></ol>
Avaaz mock up of what effective misinformation corrections could look like on YouTube videos. DeSmogBlog / Avaaz<p>DeSmog also reached out to Google, parent company of YouTube, and a company spokesperson defended YouTube's policies, saying that false information does not necessarily violate the site's community guidelines. YouTube indicated that it is not inclined to adopt the recommendations in the Avaaz report, due to concerns on limiting free speech.</p><p>"We can't speak to Avaaz's methodology or results, and our recommendations systems are not designed to filter or demote videos or channels based on specific perspectives. YouTube has strict <a href="https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6162278?hl=en" target="_blank">ad policies</a> 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," a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement responding to the report. </p><p>"We've also significantly invested in <a href="https://youtube.googleblog.com/2019/01/continuing-our-work-to-improve.html" target="_blank">reducing</a> recommendations of borderline content and harmful misinformation, and <a href="https://youtube.googleblog.com/2019/12/the-four-rs-of-responsibility-raise-and-reduce.html?m=1" target="_blank">raising up</a> authoritative voices on YouTube," the spokesperson continued. "In 2019 alone, the consumption on authoritative news publishers' channels <a href="https://youtube.googleblog.com/2019/12/the-four-rs-of-responsibility-raise-and-reduce.html" target="_blank">grew</a> by 60 percent. As our systems appear to have done in the majority of cases in this report, we prioritize 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."</p><p>Avaaz said it stands by its findings, and criticized YouTube for knowingly promoting false information on climate change.</p><p>"YouTube is the largest broadcasting channel in the world, and it is driving millions of people to climate misinformation videos," said Avaaz's Deruy. "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." </p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Big Data, Big Oil: Unveiling the 'Dark Forces' Behind Trump’s 2020 Reelection Campaign With Josh Fox
By Reynard Loki
Josh Fox, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Gasland, the documentary that started the global anti-fracking movement, is bringing a new message to audiences across the country with The Truth Has Changed, a live theater-based project that sounds the alarm on the right-wing disinformation campaign working to secure President Trump's reelection.
- Trump Seeks to Frack the 2020 Election - EcoWatch ›
- Massachusetts Sues ExxonMobil For Climate Disinformation ... ›
- Bushfires, Bots and Arson Claims: Australia Flung in the Global ... ›
By Timothy Graham, Tobias R. Keller
In the first week of 2020, hashtag #ArsonEmergency became the focal point of a new online narrative surrounding the bushfire crisis.
The message: the cause is arson, not climate change.
Bots, Trolls and Trollbots<p>The most effective disinformation campaigns use bot and troll accounts to infiltrate genuine political discussion, and shift it towards a different "<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02235-x" target="_blank">master narrative</a>."</p><p>Bots and trolls have been a thorn in the side of fruitful political debate since Twitter's early days. They mimic genuine opinions, akin to what a concerned citizen might display, with a goal of persuading others and gaining attention.</p><p><a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10584609.2018.1526238" target="_blank">Bots</a> are usually automated (acting without constant human oversight) and perform simple functions, such as retweeting or repeatedly pushing one type of content.</p><p>Troll accounts are controlled by humans. They try to stir controversy, hinder healthy debate and simulate fake grassroots movements. They aim to persuade, deceive and cause conflict.</p><p>We've observed both troll and bot accounts spouting disinformation regarding the bushfires on Twitter. We were able to distinguish these accounts as being inauthentic for two reasons.</p><p>First, we used sophisticated software tools including <a href="https://github.com/mkearney/tweetbotornot" target="_blank">tweetbotornot</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hbe2.115" target="_blank">Botometer</a>, and <a href="https://botsentinel.com/" target="_blank">Bot Sentinel</a>.</p>
Who to blame?<p>Unfortunately, we don't know who is behind these accounts, <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2019.1637447" target="_blank">as we can only access trace data such as tweet text and basic account information</a>.</p><p>This graph shows how many times #ArsonEmergency was tweeted between Dec. 31 last year and Jan. 8 this year:</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ5ODcyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDAyNTM5OH0.RQ5XKjBViMUr8jAuGjne4FQgeJblaYZbvcSkTtmxLUI/img.jpg?width=980" id="7d8d7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c48957637707dc6223059ef71e9dd72a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
On the vertical axis is the number of tweets over time which featured #ArsonEmergency. On Jan. 7, there were 4726 tweets. Author provided
Weeding-Out Inauthentic Behavior<p>In late November, some Twitter accounts began using #ArsonEmergency to counter <a href="https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/not-normal-climate-change-bushfire-web/" target="_blank">evidence</a> that climate change is linked to the severity of the bushfire crisis.</p><p>Below is one of the earliest examples of an attempt to replace #ClimateEmergency with #ArsonEmergency. The accounts tried to get #ArsonEmergency trending to drown out dialogue acknowledging the link between climate change and bushfires.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ5ODczMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTA3ODczOX0.PaMXEW_P1Jbq-n0eeHB4Qd-Rlgz5FiGIUNdlX6roC5E/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e204" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc9b39e92218bb279ece99d797eea8d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
We suspect the origins of the #ArsonEmergency debacle can be traced back to a few accounts. Author provided
The inauthentic accounts engaged with genuine users in an effort to persuade them. Author provided
Bad Publicity<p>Since media coverage has shone light on the disinformation campaign, #ArsonEmergency has gained even more prominence, but in a different light.</p><p>Some journalists are acknowledging the role of disinformation bushfire crisis — and countering narrative the Australia has an arson emergency. However, the campaign does indicate Australia has a climate denial problem.</p><p>What's clear to me is that Australia has been propelled into the global disinformation battlefield.</p>
Keep Your Eyes Peeled<p>It's difficult to debunk disinformation, as it often contains a grain of truth. In many cases, it leverages people's previously held beliefs and biases.</p><p>Humans are particularly vulnerable to disinformation in times of emergency, or when addressing contentious issues like climate change.</p><p>Online users, especially journalists, need to stay on their toes.</p><p>The accounts we come across on social media may not represent genuine citizens and their concerns. A trending hashtag may be trying to mislead the public.</p><p>Right now, it's more important than ever for us to prioritize factual news from reliable sources — and identify and combat disinformation. The Earth's future could depend on it.</p>
An international group of scientists released a report today detailing how the fossil fuel industry actively campaigned to sow doubt about the climate crisis and what steps need to be taken to undo the damage, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
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By Elliott Negin
"I want to use this opportunity to be 100 percent clear about where we stand on climate change," she wrote. "We believe the risk of climate change is real and we are committed to being part of the solution."