Read time: 6 mins
Sunday, February 24, 2019 – 03:32
“What are we in for next?” asks the narrator on the YouTube video.
“Will the temperature resume an upward trend? Will it remain flat for a lengthy period? Or will it begin to drop? No one knows, not even the biggest, fastest computers.”
The video — with the clickbait title “What They Haven’t Told You about Climate Change” — has been watched more than 2.5 million times on the Google-owned video platform.
Produced by the conservative group PragerU, the video sees Canadian lobbyist and fossil fuels advocate Patrick Moore run through a long-debunked argument that because the world’s climate has changed before, there’s no problem with burning record amounts of fossil fuels.
Moore claims, for example, there has been “no significant warming trend” in the 21st century — not mentioning that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, or that the world’s oceans have been heating rapidly.
Despite the clear errors, the video has gathered more views than any other climate science denial clip on YouTube. All up, PragerU claims the video has been watched 4.4 million times across all platforms.
A search on YouTube for the most viewed “climate change” videos has Moore’s effort ranked 13th — searching for “global warming” has it ranked 19th.
But where the problems really start, are when YouTube’s “up next” algorithm takes a guess at what you might want to watch next after seeing Moore’s video.
PragerU video on climate models.
When I viewed YouTube without signing in, almost all the videos suggested by the algorithm would sit firmly in the climate science denial folder. There’s so much of this material on YouTube that it’s not hard to find once the algorithm opens the door.
There’s a Nobel Laureate who apparently “Smashes the Global Warming Hoax” — just don’t mention the 76 other laureates asking for “rapid progress towards lowering current and future greenhouse gas emissions.”
Then there are two other videos, both titled “The Truth About Global Warming,” and both delivering the opposite to what its title claims.
Before you know it, you’re in a world of “climate cults,” “global warming hysteria,” and claims of failed predictions and Al Gore getting “slammed.”
For an unsuspecting viewer, watching just one video can lead you quickly into an alternate universe where facts, physics, and real-world experiences are replaced by conspiracies, cherry-picking, and fossil fuel–backed propaganda.
All of this exists after YouTube declared in January 2019 that it had been working on its recommendations algorithm and making “hundreds of changes to improve the quality of recommendations for users on YouTube.”
Google White Paper
But could YouTube and its parent company Google finally be getting to grips with misinformation to marginalize, rather than ban, counter-factual content?
YouTube says it’s making changes with an eye on content that “comes close to — but doesn’t quite cross the line of — violating our Community Guidelines.”
“To that end,” the official blog post explained, “we’ll begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways — such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.”