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Google and YouTube Demonetize Climate Change Skeptics

But how did Google acquire the authority to declare what is "misinformation" or "scientific consensus"?

The Google Ads team announced a new policy last week banning the monetization of content critical of a current consensus around climate change.

Beginning in November, both Google and YouTube will:

…prohibit ads for, and monetization of, content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change. This includes content referring to climate change as a hoax or a scam, claims denying that long-term trends show the global climate is warming, and claims denying that greenhouse gas emissions or human activity contribute to climate change.

Google Ads team, “Updating our ads and monetization policies on climate change,” posted October 7, 2021

This does not mean that Google and YouTube will block any and all content that denies climate change. What it does mean is that content “that contradicts well-established scientific consensus” regarding climate change will be demonetized (denied monetary payment). Part of demonetization includes prohibiting ads from appearing alongside content in violation of “scientific consensus” on climate change.

Google explained that this new policy is in response to “advertising and publisher partners who have expressed concerns about ads that run alongside or promote inaccurate claims about climate change.”

The policy was created in consultation with experts from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Reports.

Axios calls the new policy “one of the most aggressive measures any major tech platform has taken to combat climate change misinformation.”

Social Media As Misinformation Monitor

Section 230 allows social media companies to engage in content moderation without holding them accountable for their moderation practices (other than to say it must be done “in good faith”). While these companies have widely been regarded as platforms for the free exchange of ideas, the circulation of alleged misinformation has inspired political figures and society at large to pressure social media companies like Facebook to engage in more content moderation and censorship. Others, concerned about free speech, point out that social media companies often censor valid opinions alongside misinformation, effectively stifling free speech.

Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook had removed 18 million posts with alleged misinformation about COVID-19. 

Pressure to do still more to crack down on “misinformation” comes from as high up as President Biden, who called on Facebook in August to step up their efforts: “My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that somehow I’m saying Facebook is killing people, that they would do something about the misinformation. The outrageous misinformation about the vaccine.”

Who Defines “Misinformation” and “Scientific Consensus”?

In 2015, then-President Obama tweeted, “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: Climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” This statistic, however, turned out to be false. Wrote National Review’s Josh Gelernter:

For starters, though, Reuters and the president are wrong about what Cook’s study claims. It does not claim that 97 percent of scientists believe that climate change is real, man-made, and dangerous. What it claims is that 97.1 percent of the relevant scientific literature agrees with the much more conservative claim that humans are contributing to global warming in an unspecified amount.

But even in making that considerably more anodyne assertion, the “consensus” is on shaky footing. According to the abstract for Cook’s paper, 66.4 percent of the abstracts Cook and his team looked at neither supported nor opposed the position that man causes global warming. Which gives you not a 97.1 percent consensus, but 97.1 percent of the remainder, which is 32.6 percent. That is, 32.6 percent of peer-reviewed global-warming literature agrees that global warming is man-made. That’s not overwhelming.

Josh Gelernter, “The Great Climate Lie” at National Review

Similarly, MIT climatologist Dr. Richard Lindzen shortly thereafter called the claim of a 97% consensus on climate change “propaganda.” 

“Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are prone to herd instincts,” writes Jay W. Richards. “Many false ideas once enjoyed consensus. Indeed, the ‘power of the paradigm’ often blinds scientists to alternatives to their view. Question the paradigm, and some respond with anger.”

Meanwhile, Google has at the same time rolled out features in its apps intended to lessen the human impact on the environment, including eco-friendly routes on Google Maps, listing the carbon emissions of flights on Google Flights, and indicating a hotel’s commitment to eco-friendly behavior.

Caitlin Bassett

Caitlin Bassett was a Policy Analyst and Communications Liaison for the Center for Science & Culture and the Center on Wealth & Poverty. Her main areas of focus are in Big Tech and its impact on human freedom, as well as homelessness and mental illness. In her free time, she enjoys delving into Lewis and Tolkien, cosmology, and running around historical sites on the East Coast. She graduated from Liberty University in 2017 with her Bachelor’s in Politics and Policy.

Google and YouTube Demonetize Climate Change Skeptics