In October 2021, Google announced that IT would no longer run ads on fake content that denied the existence of climate change, including videos on YouTube, according to the New York Times. That way, the people who spread this false information won't be able to make money on Google's platform. However, a new report suggests that Google is not systematically enforcing its own policies. Google is still profiting from YouTube videos full of climate-related falsehoods.
In the report, published by environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and the Centre Against Digital Hate, the researchers accused YouTube of continuing to profit from videos depicting climate change as a hoax or an exaggeration. They found 200 videos that violated Google's own policies and received more than 74 million views in total, 100 of which met Google's definition of climate-related disinformation, which is an explicit denial of the existence and causes of climate change. The videos featured ads from a number of well-known companies and brands, including Costco, Politico and Nike.
"It really calls into question Google's current level of enforcement," Callum Hood, director of research at the Center Against Digital Hate, said in an interview. The researchers said it was difficult for them to assess the full picture of misinformation on YouTube because of the amount of time it took to watch the videos and because they were limited to keyword search platforms that did not have adequate data access. "I think it's fair to say that what we've found is just the tip of the iceberg," Hood added.
Environmental activist Jane Fonda said in a statement that YouTube is "abhorrent" and violating its own policies by running ads that show climate change is a hoax. "I am appalled that ads are appearing on those videos and want YouTube to stop this practice immediately," she said.
While Google failed to enforce its own policies, the researchers found that the policies themselves were not good enough. There are another 100 videos that meet the coalition's more robust and clear definition of disinformation, and those videos have received at least 55 million views, proving that such content is hugely popular. Google's policy is too narrow and applies only to the worst kind of false content, which denies that human activity is causing climate change.
By the end of the months-long study, only eight videos had been removed from Google's ads, even though some of them had been around for several years and had slowly accumulated millions of views, IT Home learned from the study. When people like Fonda and Grubhub called out Google, it went further and quickly to remove ads from content, but there are plenty of fake videos that still show ads.
According to the New York Times, the fake content persists because it is profitable, and big tech companies prioritize clicks and views at the expense of the truth. In order to prevent the spread of false and misleading content, without effective regulation, online platforms need to eliminate the financial incentives that drive the generation and spread of misinformation.