In a landmark new report, researchers at the Centre for Countering Digital Hate have harnessed the power of artificial intelligence to analyze climate denial content on YouTube, unearthing shifts in denial strategies over the past six years. The study, which delved into 12,058 videos from 96 YouTube channels, brings to light a transition from “Old Denial” on climate change to the emergence of “New Denial,” marking an evolution in climate misinformation.
The research, undertaken by a team using an AI tool known as CARDS (Computer-Assisted Recognition of Climate Change Denial and Skepticism), sought to quantify and categorize key climate denialist claims within the vast expanse of YouTube content.
The study paints a comprehensive picture of the prevailing trends with a dataset covering 4,458 hours, or nearly 186 days, of YouTube content.
The analysis reveals that videos containing climate denial claims amassed a staggering 325 million views. Notably, “New Denial” now constitutes 70 percent of denialist claims in 2023, a stark increase from 35 percent in 2018.
Influential figures such as Jordan Peterson and news channels such as Blaze TV are identified as key players in this evolving narrative, aligning themselves with the trends of “New Denial.”
Examples of ‘New Denial’
While old climate denial often centers around first principle rejections that climate change is even happening, the ‘new denial’ focuses on the impacts of climate change and the solutions to slowing global warming.
For example, “Old Denial” might involve claims that climate change just isn’t happening or is not caused by greenhouse gas emissions. New denial, however, does not reject that climate change is happening but instead pours scorn on climate solutions or makes claims such as ‘plants and animals are benefiting from climate impacts or are unaffected,’ which are untrue or misleading.
The study finds that YouTube continues to reap financial gains, reportedly making up to 13.4 million dollars annually from climate-denialist ads.
While YouTube policies explicitly prohibit monetization of “Old Denial,” it does not appear to do so for the emerging form of denial, raising questions about the platform’s commitment to combating climate misinformation.
The report emphasizes the urgency for platforms to update their policies, pointing specifically to Google, YouTube’s parent company, to reevaluate its stance on climate denial content. The researchers argue for revising the policy to encompass contradictions to the “authoritative scientific consensus on climate change” and misinformation regarding the causes, impacts, and solutions to climate change.
In addition to YouTube, the study extends its recommendations to Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and others. It calls for a thorough evaluation of their policies towards climate change denial, especially those that allow the monetization and amplification of “New Denial.”
The report highlights existing gaps in the policies of these platforms, with some leaving the identification of denialist content to third-party fact-checkers.
Meta’s Instagram and Facebook, for instance, rely on third-party fact-checkers to flag and limit the reach of content denying the existence of climate change. While addressing “Old Denial,” TikTok’s policy neglects the emerging narratives of “New Denial,” leaving a critical void in content moderation strategies.
The report urges these platforms to take proactive measures, including demonetizing and de-amplifying “New Denial” content, thereby mitigating the economic incentives driving the creation of such harmful content.
The report also reveals a concerning correlation between social media usage and conspiracist beliefs about climate change. A prior CCDH polling on social media usage found that a significant percentage of adults and teenagers expressing high activity on social media platforms agreed with statements such as “humans are not the main cause of global temperature increases.”
This underscores the pivotal role of social media in shaping public opinion on climate-related matters, demanding urgent intervention to prioritize information integrity.
A wake-up call to digital platforms
The report calls for increased resilience among climate scientists in light of the evolving threat of climate denialism. It advocates strategies to help them navigate social media to disseminate accurate scientific information, ensuring that deniers and trolls do not deter them.
The researchers also call on policymakers to recognize the nature of new climate denial and adopt legislation under CCDH’s STAR framework, which aims to inject safety, transparency, accountability, and responsibility into the governance of digital platforms, ultimately fortifying information integrity on a global scale.
The CCDH hopes the study will serve as a wake-up call to digital platforms, policymakers, and climate advocates to address the growing threat of misinformation and take proactive measures to ensure the integrity of climate-related discourse in the digital age.
Paul is a British communications expert specializing in strategy, framing, messaging, and crisis communications. He has extensive expertise working in the Maldives and Asia on foreign policy, climate diplomacy, renewable energy policy, and democracy and governance. Paul has served as communications advisor to President Mohamed Nasheed, helping him to build an exceptional international profile. He is the founder of Atoll Communications, a Maldivian PR and communications firm. He is also the COO of the Maldives Coral Institute.