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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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