If you’re trying to understand geoengineering, don’t go looking for answers on YouTube. A new study suggests that conspiracy theorists dominate the site when it comes to certain scientific terms.
Published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Communication, the study found that fewer than half of videos found on the site when searching terms related to climate science and climate engineering represented scientific consensus. It’s no wonder so many loonies actually believe in chemtrails and the like.
Study author Joachim Allgaier, a senior researcher of science communication at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany, plugged 10 search terms into YouTube: “climate,” “climate change,” “climate engineering,” “climate manipulation,” “climate modification,” “climate science,” “geoengineering,” “global warming,” “chemtrails,” and “climate hacking.” All but the last two of these terms are scientific terms, but Allgaier also searched for “chemtrails” and “climate hacking” as a control to see if these would wind up showing different results than the rest of the terms and to learn if the results would debunk climate myths.
Looking at the first 20 videos that were served for each search, his findings varied depending on the search term. “Climate,” “climate change,” “climate science,” and “global warming” resulted in videos that stuck almost entirely to scientific consensus, the study found. They tended to be news programs or documentaries based in fact. Only 9 out of the 80 videos that popped up from these terms challenged mainstream science.
However, when it came to “geoengineering,” “climate manipulation,” “climate hacking,” “climate modification,” and “chemtrails,” almost all of the videos spread misinformation. Only about 19 percent of the videos here were grounded in science. The rest were mostly all about conspiracies. Few videos dove into the actual science behind geoengineering, which some believe will solve our planet’s environmental crises. There are ideas of blocking the sun’s rays and creating rain to clear air pollution. Instead, video makers opted to rant about chemtrails, which aren’t even real, dude.
The good news is that the videos in the study that supported science had slightly more total views than those that denied climate science or went on about conspiracy theories—16,941,949 versus 16,939,655. So at least more people are hearing the truth on YouTube. Still, that doesn’t diminish the more than 16 million views that conspiracy theory videos on these topics have accrued.
“It’s alarming to find that the majority of videos propagate conspiracy theories about climate science and technology,” said Allgaier in a statement.
When I tried searching for these terms on YouTube out of curiosity, most videos seemed to communicate the issue at hand. There was, however, a stupid Fox News video at the top of the feed preaching about “climate hysteria.” STFU, Fox. When I searched “geoengineering,” I saw a lot of legitimate videos on the topic—like TED talks!—but I quickly found myself in chemtrails wonderland, as the study author found himself.
Look, YouTube is not a place to go for education. It’s a place for entertainment. Still, many people see these videos and take them as fact. They take them to be credible, reputable sources. A random video on YouTube is not a strong source, friends. Academic journals, universities, and federal agencies (OK, except maybe the Environmental Protection Agency these days) can offer truths on the topic of climate change. That’s where people should direct their questions and wonders. Not goddamn YouTube.
So open a book. And leave YouTube for music videos or funny TikTok compilations. Please.