According to the New York Times, in October 2021, Google announced that it would no longer place ads on false content that denies the existence of climate change, including videos on YouTube. In this way, those who spread this false information cannot make money through Google’s platform. However, a new report shows that Google does not systematically enforce its own policies. Google is still running and profiting from YouTube videos full of climate-related lies.
In the report, published jointly by environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth and the Center Against Digital Hate, researchers accused YouTube of continuing to profit from videos depicting climate change as hoaxes or exaggerations. They found 200 videos that violated Google’s own policies and collectively received more than 74 million views, 100 of which met Google’s definition of climate-related disinformation, which is an explicit denial of the existence and causes of climate change. Ads for many well-known businesses and brands, including Costco, Politico and Nike, appeared on the videos.
“It really calls into question the level of enforcement at Google,” Callum Hood, research director at the Center Against Digital Hate, said in an interview. It takes a lot of time, and they can only search the platform by keywords without sufficient data access. Hood added: “I think it’s fair to say that what we’ve found is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Environmental activist Jane Fonda said in a statement that YouTube was “abhorrent” and violated its own policies by running videos and advertising that climate change is a hoax. Horrified by the video and want YouTube to stop this practice immediately.”
While Google failed to enforce its own policies, the researchers found that its policies themselves were not good enough. There are another 100 videos that meet the coalition’s more robust and clear definition of disinformation, and these videos have received at least 55 million views, proving that this type of content is very popular. Google’s policy is too narrow and only applies to the worst kind of false content, denying that human activity is causing climate change.
It is learned from the study that at the end of the months-long study, only eight videos had ads removed from Google, although some of these videos had been around for several years and slowly amassed millions of views. When the likes of Fonda and Grubhub blamed Google, Google began to further remove ads on content, and very quickly, but there are still a large number of fake videos that still show ads.
According to the New York Times, these false contents persist because they are profitable, and large technology companies prioritize clicks and views at the expense of the truth. To stop the spread of false and misleading content, without effective regulation, online platforms need to remove the monetary incentives that drive the generation and dissemination of misinformation.