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Why tech platforms need climate misinformation policies right now

Disinformation has the power to derail efforts to help fix the climate emergency; Harriet Kingaby calls for tech giants to play their part

Harriet Kingaby, Media Bounty

Co-founder, The Conscious Advertising Network and Insight Lead

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Social media platforms’ reactive work during the pandemic proved that they are all capable of fighting disinformation. As early as March 4th 2020, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was removing conspiracy theories related to Covid-19. Not even two weeks later, on March 16th, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube issued a statement saying they had joined forces to combat “fraud and misinformation about the virus”. Since then, we’ve become used to seeing COVID19 fact checks on posts that pertain to the pandemic, across all platforms. So, now we know they can do it, we can ask why some haven’t done more to fight one type of disinformation that affects us all - climate disinformation.

Climate change has reached a crisis point. According to the World Health Organisation, the decade 2011–2020 was the warmest on record, with the year 2020 being among the 3 warmest recorded years globally. That’s partly the reason for COP26, the most important climate conference of a generation. Climate change is an emergency, and disinformation could seriously derail it.

Disinformation is becoming more sophisticated, and we’re seeing profound impacts on society and people as a result. We opened this year with the storming of the US Capitol by people that genuinely believed disinformation about the legitimacy of the elections, and ahead of COP26, The Global Disinformation Index is already reporting an uptick in disinformation every time a climate announcement is made.

Advertisers’ role in spreading climate disinformation

The reality is that, because of the way the advertising ecosystem is designed, ad spend can support quality journalism while simultaneously funding hate speech and disinformation. In fact, it already funds misinformation quite heavily - a recent study from NewsGuard and Comscore found advertisers are wasting $2.6 billion on misinformation sites worldwide.

Indeed, as well as funding misinformation, we’re also not making advertising money available to credible sources. When researching the Change The Narrative report, Cheq found that 70% of the most shared climate stories online were unmonetizable by advertising. A leaked report from the IPCC on climate change blamed disinformation tactics for creating “risks to society” because they have prevented governments from responding to the dangers of climate change.

What platforms and advertisers can do now

The good news is that we are already seeing some change. Google’s new climate misinformation policy, developed in partnership with the Conscious Advertising Network, will “prohibit ads for, and monetization of, content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.” The policy includes content referring to climate change as a hoax or a scam, claims that deny that long-term trends show the global climate is warming, and claims that deny that greenhouse gas emissions or human activity contribute to climate change.

Our hope is that Google’s new policy sets a precedent across the industry. We want to see all the platforms create and enforce anti-misinformation policies on topics of high importance. All the great work around public health is a good start, but we need policies on big issues such as climate change ahead of COP26 too. We know they can do this from their work during the COVID19 pandemic. A good way for advertisers to help move this along is to apply pressure from within - ask your platform representatives what their policy on climate misinformation is, and let them know you’re keeping an eye on their statements and developments on the issue. The Online Safety Bill is also designed to tackle misinformation from a regulatory perspective, but this must be backed up by industry leadership, so it’s worth reading up on that too.

There are other things that advertisers can do to tackle disinformation, like implementing the CAN misinformation manifesto, and taking a look at our Change the Narrative report on how to tackle climate misinformation. Climate-related words also need to be taken off blocklists, so that they don’t inadvertently defund the credible climate reporters that we have.

We’ve seen conferences be derailed before, so it’s critical that platforms and advertisers get this right. Our planet is at stake, and the advertising industry can help save it. 

Guest Author

Harriet Kingaby, Media Bounty

Co-founder, The Conscious Advertising Network and Insight Lead

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