YouTube Climate Change Videos Abound in Unscientific Conspiracy Theories

(CN) – Type in “climate change” into the YouTube search bar and you’re soon likely to become immersed in a miasma of misinformation, bad science and conspiracy mongering.

A study published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Communication on Wednesday found the majority of videos hosted on YouTube with content related to climate change feature content opposed to the worldwide scientific consensus on the factors influencing a drastically shifting global climate.

“Searching YouTube for climate-science and climate-engineering-related terms finds fewer than half of the videos represent mainstream scientific views,” says study author Joachim Allgaier, a researcher at RWTH Aachen University. “It’s alarming to find that the majority of videos propagate conspiracy theories about climate science and technology.”

Using ten different climate change related search terms, Allgaier analyzed 200 different videos hosted on YouTube and found most of them ran contrary to the scientific consensus as established by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

(AP file photo/J. David Ake)

YouTube typically uses algorithms to suggest similar videos for users, thereby personalizing the results. To combat the user tendency for reinforcement, Allgaier employed a software tool that provides anonymity while sifting the site in order to give the research a better idea of the breadth of videos available to potential users.

“So far, research has focused on the most-watched videos, checking their scientific accuracy, but this doesn’t tell us what an average internet user will find, as the results are influenced by previous search and watch histories,” Allgaier said.

Many of the videos trafficked in the chemtrails conspiracy theory, a popular trope in certain corners of the web that holds that jet fuels are imbued with certain chemicals that once deployed in the air, can control weather, human thought patterns or prepare for imminent chemical warfare.

Another prominent feature of videos with inaccurate scientific information was the incorrect treatment of the term geoengineering, according to the study.

Geoengineering is a scientific term that refers to human intervention in the atmosphere to alter the climate usually in a manner aimed at addressing the harmful repercussions of accumulating greenhouse gases. The term encompasses a variety of techniques that typically center on removal of gases from the atmosphere or increased sunlight reflection.

But in the world of Youtube videos, the term geoengineering has come to denote a pernicious global conspiracy aimed at mind control and thought domination.

“People searching for ‘geoengineering’ or ‘climate modification’ on YouTube won’t find any information on these topics in the way they are discussed by scientists and engineers,” Allgaier said. “Instead, searching for these terms results in videos that leave users exposed to entirely non-scientific video content.”

Allgaier concedes credulous platform users and conspiracy mongers bear some responsibility for the glut of misinformation proliferating on the site; however, the researcher notes the lack of transparency around YouTube’s algorithms and their tendency to deliver a continual stream of similarly themed videos encourages users to engage with copious amounts of deception.

“We should be aware this powerful artificial intelligence is already making decisions for us, for example, if you choose to use ‘auto-play’,” Allgaier said. “I think YouTube should take responsibility to ensure its users will find high-quality information if they search for scientific and biomedical terms, instead of being exposed to doubtful conspiracy videos.”

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