Google is committed to removing ads from climate denial sites, but many are still working


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Ahead of last month’s United Nations World Climate Summit, Google, the world’s largest provider of online ads, made an important announcement: it would stop placing ads on sites that deny the scientific consensus on climate change. .

Forbidden to take advantage of its advertising program, Google said, sites and videos that falsely refer to global warming as a hoax or scam. Also, don’t hesitate to run Google ads: content that falsely claims that greenhouse gas emissions or human activity are not contributing to climate change.

But new research shows that Google’s policy has had limited effect so far.

Google’s ads were still running on dozens of articles on Wednesday, including major right-wing sites like Breitbart, which falsely called global warming a hoax and described the United Nations climate conference last month. like “a gigantic ecofascist. gas lighting operation. In fact, diplomats from nearly 200 countries have struck a major deal to step up efforts to tackle the grave dangers posed by a warmer planet.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate, a London-based nonprofit group, said on Thursday it had counted at least 50 new articles on climate denial across 14 different sites, all published after November 9, when the new policy of Google was to come into effect. An earlier report by researchers at the center found that 10 of the top publishers of climate denial content received nearly 1.1 billion visits in the six months leading up to the climate conference.

This is a concern because the ad revenue these denial sites earn by serving Google ads then helps fund more denial content, said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the center. “The more ad revenue they get, the more items they can produce and they can get them in front of as many eyeballs as possible,” he said.

In fact, Google’s business model, to maximize its reach on the Internet and use personal data and algorithms to optimize ad placements, had made it “a major avenue for the monetization of malicious content, be it vaccine denial, identity hatred, climate denial, ”said Mr. Ahmed.

Google spokesperson Michael Aciman said the company had looked at the pages in question and had taken “appropriate enforcement action.” Early Thursday, articles on Breitbart’s climate denial that had displayed ads placed by Google no longer displayed them.

“When we find content that crosses the line from political debate to promoting climate change denial, we stop showing ads on that page or site,” Aciman said.

The results underscore how Google struggled to get a handle on even blatant examples of climate denial, experts said. The company’s latest pledge was sparked by growing pressure on Google to stop monetizing the worst examples of climate denial online.

“There is no ambiguity that these pages are out of sync with mainstream climate science,” said John Cook, postdoctoral researcher at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University, whose research encompasses the using machine learning to identify climate misinformation. “They shouldn’t be difficult to blacklist.”

And although much of the rest of the world has moved on from more blatant forms of climate denial, the United States has remained particularly vulnerable, Dr Cook said. “There are areas of the country where denial of science is still flourishing, and those are usually the markets for these types of web pages,” he said. “Climate disinformation confuses and polarizes the public, delays climate action and reduces trust in scientists. “

Google, whose parent company is Alphabet, has also come under pressure to tackle election-related misinformation on its platforms, including the video-sharing site YouTube.

Google said it uses a mixture of automated detection and human review to rate content, including YouTube videos. It normally turns off page-by-page ads, although gross or persistent violations can trigger action against an entire site. Publishers have the option of appealing a decision or remedying their violations and requesting reinstatement.

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