Google is cleaning house: Following last week’s move to demonetize anti-vaccine content on YouTube, the company has also added climate change denial to the list of videos that creators can no longer make money off of.
Google announced the latest policy change through a support page where the Ads team lays out why it made this decision. The answer is much less altruistic than it seems.
“We’ve heard directly from a growing number of our advertising and publisher partners who have expressed concerns about ads that run alongside or promote inaccurate claims about climate change,” Google said. “Advertisers simply don’t want their ads to appear next to this content.”
Who would have thought that Google’s advertisers wouldn’t like their well-curated, fancy ads appearing alongside conspiracy theories? Google’s new policy should help combat some of that, though it doesn’t sound like it’s a complete ban on the topic.
According to the new policy, YouTube creators cannot earn money for any content that contradicts “well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.” This includes content that says climate change is a scam or denies the increasingly evident warming trend overtaking the planet. It also includes any content that denies that humans and greenhouse gas emissions play a significant part in the onset of climate change.
The company plans to enforce its new policy beginning next month using a combination of algorithms and human moderation. The policy will apply to any Google-served ads and publisher content and YouTube videos that are a part of the YouTube Partner Program. However, there’s no explicit mention about the rest of the YouTube platform, and whether you’ll still run into the mass of conspiracy theorist content that plagues YouTube. Sounds like unless it’s explicitly related to climate change or covid vaccines, conspiracy theories get free rein.
Google has come under fire in recent years for helping keep climate denial alive, well, and poisoning our discourse. An analysis published last year found more than 5,500 monetized YouTube videos that had been viewed 21.1 million spouted climate denial. The ads that ran during the videos even included Greenpeace. Google has also directly funded groups that push climate denial.
But the company is hardly alone among tech giants in keeping deniers and polluters in business. Facebook has allowed climate deniers to run ads. The company has also overruled its fact-checkers on what constitutes climate misinformation. Microsoft and Amazon, meanwhile, have joined Google in selling cloud computing services to Big Oil. Those companies are patient zero for climate denial, having spent decades confusing the public (in addition to worsening the climate crisis). Demonetizing deniers’ videos on YouTube is one step, but there’s still more to go.
Update, 10/8/21, 8:55 a.m.: This post has been updated with more information about Google and other tech companies’ engagement with climate denial.