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Google fails to block adverts on ‘climate lie’ sites

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Google is still allowing adverts to run alongside articles calling climate change a “hoax” and a “big lie” despite pledging more than a year ago to block Google Ads running alongside content containing climate misinformation.

Campaigners accused the firm of “trying to have its cake and eat it”.

The internet giant has strongly trumpeted its green credentials, from sourcing renewable energy and improving the energy efficiency of its data centres to helping people find the most fuel efficient routes on Google Maps.

In October 2021 it announced a new policy for its £44.5 billion advertising platform, Google Ads, which accounts for the majority of its parent company Alphabet’s revenues.

The company would ban ads alongside content that “contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change,” it said.

Sites carrying the ads receive 68 per cent of the revenue, while Google takes 32 per cent. By blocking the ads appearing next to articles describing “climate change as a hoax or a scam” and “claims denying that greenhouse gas emissions or human activity contribute to climate change”, the company said it would demonetise publishers of climate misinformation.

However, analysis of 726 articles between November 2021 and October 2022 by a group of primarily US-based websites has found many are still carrying Google Ads next to climate denial content.

The Centre for Countering Digital Hate, a UK non-profit organisation, found Google Ads displayed on 63 of the 100 most widely-shared articles casting doubt on climate change.

More than 110,000 interactions on Facebook were generated by the 63 stories. The ads appeared on one story by the website Townhall calling climate change “a hoax designed to fill the hole in lib souls that used to be filled with faith”.

Another, on the website PJ Media, referred to human-caused climate change as a “big lie” and claimed the majority of scientists thought it was “utter nonsense” that humans are driving climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 2021 that it was unequivocal that human activities were the cause.

Imran Ahmed, CCDH’s founder, said: “Google is trying to have its cake and eat it too. They claim publicly to be green and climate-friendly, and issue press releases to make claims that they are going further and faster to combat climate denial than other big tech companies, but we discovered they are funnelling millions of dollars to those spreading climate denial.”

The sites carrying Google Ads alongside articles containing climate denial include Breitbart, CNSNews, The Daily Wire, HotAir, Newsbusters, Newsmax, MRCTV, RedState and Twitchy.

Articles were included by CCDH if they denied climate change is taking place, is man-made, denied the scientific consensus or described people highlighting climate change as fear-mongering or alarmists.

Google has faced previous claims that some of its actions are undermining its leadership on climate change.

Google said: “When we find content that crosses the line from policy debate to promoting climate change denial, we stop serving ads on that page or site. We’ve already reviewed many of the pages shared with us and have taken appropriate enforcement actions.”

However, several of the articles identified by the CCDH, including the PJ Media “big lie” story, were still carrying Google Ads when reviewed.