On YouTube, climate denialism takes a turn

The voices that deny climate change have decided on a new refrain.

Instead of rejecting the fact that the Earth is warming, they are now focusing on skepticism about climate solutions, as well as scientists and activists and generally on the idea that climate change will cause harm, according to a new report of the Center for the Fight against Climate Change. Hate, a nonprofit that investigates digital hate speech and misinformation.

The organization’s analysis suggests that outright rejection of climate change is no longer such a compelling argument, so climate skeptics are shifting the ideological fight toward how seriously humanity should take climate change or what to do. do about it. The report also claims that YouTube parent company Google’s content policies, which supposedly block advertising dollars from content that rejects the scientific consensus on the existence and causes of climate change, are ineffective and should be updated.

“A new front has opened in this battle,” Imran Ahmed, the organization’s executive director, said at a news conference. “They’ve gone from saying climate change isn’t happening to now saying, ‘Hey, climate change is happening, but there’s no hope.’ There are no solutions.’”

Scientists who study Earth systems have agreed for decades that human burning of fossil fuels creates an imbalance of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere that are warming the world. The Earth has warmed about 1.2 degrees Celsius, on average, since before the industrial age, when fossil fuels began powering economies.

That warming is melting ice shelves, causing sea levels to rise and intensifying the water cycle. In recent years, scientists have been able to connect individual events, such as the devastating 2021 heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, to human-caused climate change.

American public perception of climate change has changed in recent decades, but remains highly politicized, according to the Pew Research Center. The nonprofit Institute for Environmental and Energy Studies said in a report in February that “Americans are increasingly convinced that global warming is happening, is human-caused, and is a serious problem. “Americans also increasingly understand that climate impacts are here and now and would like to see more government action.”

The Center to Counter Digital Hate is a nonprofit organization whose stated goal is to “protect human rights and civil liberties” by holding social media companies accountable. Ahmed said the organization has been “closely integrated with the climate movement.”

For its analysis, the organization used an artificial intelligence model to evaluate the arguments used in more than 12,000 YouTube videos from 96 channels that it said featured climate change denial content, including videos from Blaze TV, a media channel conservative, and the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank. The videos were published from January 2018 to September 2023.

The “deep learning model” processed YouTube transcripts and sought to identify whether particular themes of climate denial were present, the report says. Independent evaluators verified part of the text transcriptions and rated the accuracy of the model. Independent reviewers said they accurately found denied claims about 78% of the time.

“We are very confident that, at scale, this analysis gives us … very robust data that indicates trends,” Ahmed said.

Over more than five years of videos, the researchers said, arguments suggesting that climate solutions won’t work or that climate advocates in science or activism are untrustworthy have increased 21.4 and 12 percentage points, respectively. The idea that global warming is not happening at all has decreased by 34.3 percentage points.

Outside researchers said the analysis reflects trends they have observed in recent years.

John Cook, a senior researcher at the Melbourne Center for Behavior Change at the University of Melbourne in Australia, developed the artificial intelligence model used by the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

Cook’s research has focused on trends in contrarian climate blogs and conservative think tank websites from 1998 to 2020.

The research, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, found a similar trend.

“It is clear that the future of climate disinformation will increasingly focus on solutions and attacking climate science itself,” Cook said in an email. “Disinformation that points to solutions is designed to delay climate action, while misinformation that attacks climate science erodes public trust in science and climate scientists.”

John Kotcher, an associate research professor at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, who studies Americans’ beliefs and opinions on climate change, said he has seen similar trends. His survey asks Americans what kinds of questions they would ask a global warming expert.

From 2011 to 2023, respondents have become less interested in questions such as whether global warming is a hoax, whether global warming is happening, how experts know it is happening, and whether it will harm people, surveys show.

“All of this is consistent with the notion that opposition messaging has strategically shifted its focus: from questioning whether climate change is really happening to focusing on how serious a problem it is, how serious it really is, and how effective it is.” These are the proposed solutions.” Kotcher said.

Kotcher said his research suggests that those interested in taking action on climate change agree on a number of key facts: that climate change is real, that humans are the primary cause, that scientists agree about those two ideas, that it has negative impacts today, that others care and that solutions exist today.

“Calling a truce on one of those key battlegrounds (the existence of climate change) moves the needle a little more in what I would say is the right direction, getting people to have a more fact-based understanding of the problem.” . Kotcher said.

The report from the Center to Counter Digital Hate takes aim at YouTube’s policies on climate misinformation, saying it fails to prevent the monetization of denial narratives; The report includes screenshots of ads in videos that it classifies as “old denial,” which flatly denies that climate change is occurring.

The nonprofit group argues that YouTube and Google should expand the type of content that can’t be monetized to include content it categorizes as “new denial,” which rejects the scientific consensus on the “causes, impacts and solutions” of climate change. .

YouTube has law enforcement teams that review questionable content, including content about climate change. YouTube reviewed the report from the Center to Counter Digital Hate and agreed that some of the videos it cited violated its climate change policies. However, it said most of the videos complied with its policy.

“Our climate change policy prohibits advertising on content that contradicts a well-established scientific consensus on the existence and causes of climate change,” Nate Funkhouser, a YouTube spokesperson, said in an email. “Debates or discussions on climate change issues are permitted, including around public policies or research. However, when content crosses the line of climate change denial, we stop showing ads on those videos. “We also display information panels below relevant videos to provide additional information on climate change and third-party context.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *