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Introduction

Amid concerns about the politics and platforms of presidential hopefuls, the veracity of promises made by tech leaders, and the influence of AI, one fear underlies it all: that growing misinformation could seal the fate of the American population.

The Rise of New Climate Denial

  • A new report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) chronicles the rise of new forms of climate-based misinformation, also known as denial content, specifically taking over YouTube.
  • Around 70 percent of all climate change denial claims made on YouTube are New Denial claims, an increase from 35 percent just six years ago.
  • These claims avoid arguing against the existence of human-caused climate change and instead focus on disputing the motivations of scientists and politicians, seeking to discredit possible solutions and split populations against action.
  • This kind of content is a million-dollar business, with predictive models of total ad revenue showing monetized new climate denial channels rake in $13.4 million per year.
  • New Denial content is particularly appealing to young people, with more than 30 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds believing the impacts of global warming are relatively harmless and that climate policies are doing more harm than good.

How Climate Change Denial Has Changed Over Time

  • The original CARDS study classified climate denial content into five main categories:
    • It’s not happening.
    • It’s not us.
    • It’s not that bad.
    • Solutions won’t work.
    • Climate science (and scientists) has ulterior motives.
  • The last two categories are what the CCDH now terms “New Denial” content.
  • Attacks on scientists and policies have been around since the very “beginning” of climate denial.
  • There have been cyclical trends in climate denial, with an increase in posts around the end of the year, aligning with the annual U.N. COP climate conferences.
  • Traditionally conservative outlets like Breitbart and Newsmax have simply been replaced by the rise of similar anti-climate action social media influencers.

New Denial Content on Social Media

  • New Denial claims can be found everywhere, including on the accounts of known climate deniers like Jordan Peterson and Alex Epstein.
  • Comment sections are rife with similar kinds of thinking.
  • YouTube is prone to these kinds of posts and comments, and the video-centric nature of the site is particularly engaging for young users.
  • Social media companies have added climate change-specific policies in response to the rise in misinformation, but enforcement has been inconsistent.

How to Spot and Respond to Climate Misinformation

  • A fact-based approach to debunking climate denial content is the most straightforward way to spot and stop the spread.
  • Pull in the support of a global network of researchers through official reports, science-backed blogs, or officially sanctioned websites.
  • Appeal to those at risk with logic by recognizing common rhetorical techniques used by climate denial actors.
  • Educate individuals on these techniques to get around the limitations of fact-based approaches.
  • Numerous organizations offer an assortment of climate literacy resources, including videos, articles, and online quizzes.

Conclusion

The inadequate response from tech’s leaders leaves the misinformation fight in the hands of researchers, watchdogs, and individuals themselves. We need to think critically about the content we consume and equip ourselves with the tools to spot and respond to climate misinformation.