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Report: YouTube’s promoting climate change misinformation videos and big brands have ads playing on them

It is far too easy to find misinformation about climate change online, as prominent social media channels such as YouTube continue to host huge amounts of such content. And according to a new report, in addition to these videos being pushed on viewers, major brands are having their ads placed on them.

NGO Avaaz has published a report examining the reasons why YouTube continues to have a problem broadcasting climate misinformation.  The findings seem to show that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm provided climate misinformation videos free promotion and presented misinformation to millions who wouldn’t have been exposed to it otherwise.

For example, when searching the term “global warming” 16% of the top 100 related videos included under the up-next feature presented misinformation about climate change. Similar outcomes were found when applied to the term “climate change” (8%) and “climate manipulation” (21%). Videos included such questionable titles as “Actual Scientist: Climate Change is a Hoax” and “CIA Whistleblower Speaks Out About Climate Engineering Vaccination Dangers and 911”. Some videos even claimed that there was no evidence that CO2 emissions were the dominant factor in climate change.

A concern is if YouTube is incentivising climate misinformation content via its monetisation programme. When an ad is shown on a YouTube video, the advertiser pays a fee, of which 55% goes to the video creator and the other 45% to YouTube.  According to Avaaz, there were 108 brands running ads on the climate misinformation videos found via this method, One in five ads were from green or ethical brands as well as public entities, such as Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Ecosia, Save the Children, the German Interior Ministry, and Eureciclo. But Avaaz also found that 12.5% of the ads on the monetised videos were from household brands such as Aeromexico, Uber, Samsung, Decathlon, L’Oreal and, Harley Davidson, which appeared over five times, and sometimes more than 10 times.

Responding to the report’s findings, Greenpeace, WWF, L’Oreal, Samsung, Danone, Decathlon, Carrefour, Nikin, and Ecosia stated that they were unaware that their ads were accompanying climate misinformation videos.

Avaaz recommended several actions have to be taken by YouTube, such as ending its free promotion of misinformation and disinformation videos by extracting such videos from YouTube’s algorithms and starting to include climate misinformation in its borderline content policy. The NGO also suggested YouTube should add disinformation and misinformation to YouTube’s relevant monetisation policies, ensuring such content does not include advertising and is not financially incentivised. It urged YouTube to move immediately, providing the option for advertisers to exclude their ads from videos with climate misinformation. Lastly, YouTube was advised in the report to work with independent fact-checkers to inform users who have seen or interacted with false or misleading information and issue corrections alongside the videos.

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