Over 18 months after YouTube pledged to demonetize climate change denial content, researchers say they found 100 videos that violate the policy and still feature ads. They said in a report that ads for brands such as Costco, Politico and Tommy Hilfiger were displayed alongside the videos, which collectively had more than 18 million views.
An ad for the movie 80 For Brady appeared before a video claiming that climate change is a hoax, according to The New York Times. Jane Fonda, who stars in the film and runs a PAC focused on tackling climate change, told the publication she was "appalled" to find out an ad for one of her movies was running next to such a video.
Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD), a coalition of more than 50 environmental organizations and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said the videos it found included claims like "there is no link between CO2 and temperature” and “every single model [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] ever have put out is wrong.” The researchers added that YouTube bans videos containing "harmful misinformation" from receiving ad revenue. This policy applies to videos that contradict "authoritative scientific consensus on the existence of and causes behind climate change."
CAAD said it found another 100 videos with more than 55 million total views that didn't violate YouTube's policies but met its own definition of climate misinformation and disinformation. The group claimed that's an indication of YouTube profiting from videos that fall outside of its "narrow definition" of what constitutes climate disinformation.
The researchers said that by the time they completed their research, YouTube had demonetized eight of the videos in the dataset. CAAD said the videos that were still monetized collectively had more than 71 million views.
Content moderation is a complex issue and some videos that violate YouTube policies will inevitably slip through the cracks. However, some of the climate change denial videos that CAAD found were on channels with more than a million subscribers.
YouTube spokesperson Michael Aciman told Engadget that although the platform rigorously enforces its climate change denial policy, it's impossible to do so perfectly. Still, YouTube is "constantly working" to upgrade its systems and get better at spotting and removing content that violates its policies. YouTube welcomes third-party feedback, as flagging videos that violate the rules can "help improve the accuracy of our enforcement over time."
The platform has reviewed a list of videos that CAAD researchers shared with it and demonetized those that violate the climate change denial policy. However, YouTube found that "a significant number of the videos" CAAD flagged didn't break the rules.
"In 2021, we launched a new, industry-leading policy that explicitly prohibits ads from running on content promoting false claims about the existence and causes of climate change, which we designed in consultation with experts and authoritative sources on climate science," Aciman said. "We do allow policy debate or discussions of climate-related initiatives, but when content crosses the line to climate change denial, we remove ads from serving on those videos.”
Update 5/2/2023 3:20PM ET: Added a statement and more context from YouTube.
Update 5/2/2023 3:55PM ET: Clarified that many of the videos CAAD flagged did not violate YouTube's policies.