It was about time. TikTok, one of the leading social media networks, is starting to remove videos that deny the existence of climate change. The platform states it would “begin to ramp up enforcement” of its new climate change misinformation policy, following similar actions taken by other social media giants and platforms like Google.
TikTok said it won’t allow content that “undermines well-established scientific consensus” regarding the climate crisis. The platform will still allow videos that raise discussions about climate change but only if they don’t go against the consensus. Users searching for climate information will be directed to “authoritative information”.
The new move comes a month after TikTok announced it was updating its community guidelines to add policies related to artificial intelligence, climate misinformation and civil and election integrity. In a blog post, Tiktok said the changes will help to “empower accurate climate discussions” and reduce “harmful misinformation.”
A boom in climate misinformation
Over 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers agree climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans, according to a survey of over 88,000 climate-related studies. The research, covering studies from 2021 to 2020, updated a similar paper from 2013 that found 97% of the studies published agreed humans are causing the climate crisis.
Despite this consensus, disinformation campaigns are very common in social media. People tend to rely on information from their contacts on social media, which can lead to an echo chamber where misinformation is transmitted and repeated. In turn, this can lead to polarization, where communities gather around contrasting positions.
Some authors have said there’s a climate change “denial industry,” with concerted efforts to spread misinformation in many ways. This is done by think-tanks and lobby groups, who present themselves as reasonable interpreters of climate science, when they are far from being that, in many cases funded by fossil fuel companies.
TikTok and social media
Last month, researchers at NewsGuard looked for content about leading news topics on TikTok and found one out of five of the videos automatically suggested by the platform included misinformation. The organization said the amount of misinformation was especially concerning given the popularity of TikTok among young people.
However, the problem goes beyond TikTok. An analysis by a group of environmental groups and researchers last year found that Meta made millions on advertising that spreads misinformation about climate change. The identified fossil fuel-linked entities that spent over $4 million on Facebook and Instagram at the time of a UN climate summit.
The same happens on Twitter. Climate Action Against Disinformation, a coalition of campaigners, found in a recent report that climate disinformation has flourished over the past year. Some of the popular topics included false claims over carbon dioxide not causing climate change and that global warming isn’t caused by human activity.
Some social media platforms as well as TikTok have already started taking action. In 2021, Google stopped ads running on climate-change-denying YouTube videos and other content, and prohibited ads promoting these claims. This happened after Avaaz, a US non-profit, accused YouTube in 2020 of “incentivizing climate misinformation.”
Ultimately, there’s still no silver bullet for social networks to fight disinformation. While social media platforms have made progress in addressing this issue through the implementation of policies and technology, the constantly evolving nature of disinformation makes it difficult to stay ahead. As we move forward, it is crucial for all stakeholders to work together to build a more resilient and trustworthy online environment.