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YouTube Under Fire for Running Ads That Reject Mainstream Climate Science on Videos With Over 73 Million Views

by Martina Igini Global Commons May 4th 20233 mins
YouTube Under Fire for Running Ads That Reject Mainstream Climate Science on Videos With Over 73 Million Views

YouTube continues to profit from climate disinformation ads despite Google pledging more than a year ago that it would stop selling ads on videos that deny the climate crisis and spread fake news. 

YouTube profits from ads on climate disinformation videos with tens of millions of views, despite Google updating its monetisation policies on climate change more than a year ago, a new study has found.

The new research by the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) coalition and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) published earlier this week identified 200 examples of YouTube videos containing climate misinformation and disinformation, which collectively serve ads to over 73 million viewers.

The results are proof that Google, one of the world’s largest companies with a market value of US$863.2 billion, is breaking its promise not to profit from ads that reject mainstream climate science. 

In October 2021, the company updated its existing rules on ads on climate change by introducing a new monetisation policy for Google advertisers, publishers, and YouTube creators that would “prohibit ads for, and monetization of, content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around … climate change.”

Researchers identified 100 sponsored videos amassing a total of 18.9 million views that are in clear breach of the new policy as they meet Google’s narrow definition of climate disinformation, which applies only to denial of the existence or human causes of climate change. They contain claims such as “Every single model [the IPCC] ever have put out is wrong” or “In summary, there is no link between CO2 and temperature.”

A further 100 YouTube videos with a total of 55 million views were found to meet CAAD’s definition of climate disinformation, which applies to “deceptive or misleading content” that undermines the existence and impacts of and anthropogenic contribution to climate change, misrepresents scientific data, and falsely publicises misleading efforts to support climate goals which in fact contribute to global warming.

Of the 200 videos compiled by researchers, only eight had their ads removed, a clear demonstration of the many flaws in Google’s enforcement of its policy.

Moreover, researchers found that 19% of the channels that posted the disinformation videos are not part of YouTube’s Partnership Program, which allows content creators to split ad revenue with Google, meaning that YouTube gets all the revenue generated by these videos.

This, however, might just be the tip of the iceberg as there is evidence that Google’s monetisation on climate change goes beyond YouTube.

In a recent study, the CCDH found that 63% of popular climate denial articles still carry Google ads. The Center also shared data showing that Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire bought ads on climate crisis denial search terms, such as “climate change is a hoax.”

In a press release, CCDH head of research Callum Hood called out Google for supporting the climate denial industry.

Whether it’s taking cash to target users with climate disinformation, or running ads that make climate denial content profitable, the company is selling out,” Hood said. He also urged Google to “open up the black box of its advertising business” and adopt a “more comprehensive definition of climate disinformation” that applies not only to denial of the existence or human causes of climate change but also takes “greenwashing, paltering, and attacks on climate solutions” into account.

“Disinformation persists because it’s profitable, and Big Tech needs to remove that incentive,” Friends of the Earth Climate Disinformation Spokesperson Erika Seiber said, adding that, “since Big Tech can’t answer the call from researchers and advocates for full transparency and accountability, lawmakers need to mandate it.”

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

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About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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