Nov 1, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Big Tech finally reckons with climate denialism

Animated illustration of Earth in the shape of a speech bubble with an ellipsis in the center to indicate typing
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Tech companies are cracking down on climate misinformation ahead of this year's United Nations COP26 climate summit, in an effort to get ahead of an expected surge in climate misinformation during the global conference.

Why it matters: Internet platforms have let climate denialism run rampant for years. New efforts to curb climate misinformation are finally happening in the wake of a more serious global conversation around the crisis.

  • Ahead of the conference, which began Sunday, experts have warned that misinformation could undermine the event.
  • Extreme weather events this year have pushed climate deniers to adapt their strategies online, making them harder to combat by tech companies.

Driving the news: Twitter on Monday rolled out a new program designed to “pre-bunk” climate misinformation, or get ahead of false narratives about climate by exposing people to more accurate information about the crisis on its platform.

  • Last month, Google and its subsidiary YouTube took a much more drastic step, announcing a new policy that prohibits climate deniers from being able to monetize their content.
  • In September, Facebook introduced new measures intended to counter misinformation about climate change after expanding an online portal meant to counter such misinformation in February.

Yes, but: Most of the recent actions taken around climate misinformation aren't as aggressive as the efforts tech firms have taken to ban misinformation around things like anti-vaccination content and election denialism in recent years.

The big picture: Long before anti-vaccination content and election denialism became society's biggest misinformation headaches, false claims that scientists were divided over climate science findings spread widely online with little intervention from Big Tech platforms.

  • Climate denialism paved the way for more recent conspiracy theories and "big lies," like the false notion peddled by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was "stolen."

What to watch: Tech companies are uniquely exposed to the climate fight, given how much energy data centers burn globally and how close many of their campuses are to areas that are expected to be heavily impacted by rising sea levels.

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