While the Cop26 summit on climate was disappointing for many, it made many marketers reflect more deeply about their own contribution to the climate crisis, including how their dollars have inadvertently funded misinformation.
“Without definitions, all we have are vague policies that do more harm than good”
— Harriet Kingaby, co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN)
In fact, some of Europe’s most powerful ads businesses, including Sky, British Gas, Accenture Interactive, Havas Media, and Havas Media, have signed an open petition requesting immediate action from platforms to combat the threat. It asks for the following:
- A universal definition of climate misinformation/climate disinformation.
- ‘Action against climate dis/misinformation’ to be included in the COP26 Negotiated Outcome, based on the above definition.
- Technology platforms for climate disinformation policies and enforcement. These policies extend to content, algorithms, and advertising.
The letter has been organized by the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) — a voluntary coalition of over 70 organizations set up to highlight the ethics that underpin advertising.
Digiday caught up one of the architects of the initiative Harriet Kingaby, co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) to discuss Cop26 and how the ad industry could become even more conscious about how its dollars fuel the spread of multitude of facts, opinions and lies — for better or worse.
This conversation has been edited lightly for clarity and conciseness.
Out of all the possible things platforms could do to address this problem, why are universal definitions for climate disinformation/misinformation so important?
If the platforms don’t take more demonstrable action against this issue then what happens is that you just get updates from that saying “we’ve taken down x number of posts,” which just isn’t enough. We want more action. That’s the reason we put together this letter; if we have a common definition for both climate disinformation and misinformation because if we have them then everyone knows where the line is — they know what’s harmful. Without definitions, all we have are vague policies that do more harm than good because there’s no consistent take on what is and isn’t acceptable.
The next COP event is in Egypt next year, but we can’t wait for when this issue is front and center again to make an impact. This definition must be implemented immediately by the platforms. They should immediately take it and use it for policy changes within their networks. This would be a huge step towards demonetizing the worst aspects of this problem. Freedom of speech isn’t really a good enough excuse. Let’s be clear, it won’t be hampered by the platforms adopting this definition because it’s focused on monetized content only. People shouldn’t be paid for saying climate change is a hoax or casting doubt on issues that are doing so much harm to the world.
What’s the difference between climate Misinformation Disinformation?
I use the Addis Ababa Action Agenda as per the CAN misinforoamtion manifesto. It is created or shared with an intent to deceive. Misinformation is spread without the intention to deceive. Importantly, we’ve probably all accidentally contributed to misinformation. The definition of climate misinformation is then. here.
Why is climate misinformation — and subsequently funding it — so dangerous?
The problem of climate misinformation has become so complex in recent years. There was a time when it was just people saying “climate change is a hoax.” Back then it was easier to refute those claims because 97% of scientists believe that climate change is happening. That said, the misinformation around climate change has become more insidious; you’re starting to see false solutions being offered, for example. This is not an easy problem to solve. To tackle this problem, you must have a good understanding of the issue. Not to mention there’s this delay messaging effect whereby people push this idea that society has time to deal with climate change. Again, it’s something that requires a lot of scientific knowledge and insight into the different solutions to really unpick it.
Is the industry ignoring this matter?
There are many advertisers behind the scenes taking real steps to ensure they don’t appear next to this sort of thing but it’s not as straightforward as it was before when it was so clearly against scientific consensus. The hope is that with the definition, which has been developed with climate experts, that we’re able to address this — or at least start to. It all starts with the platforms. This definition would stop content being monetized if the platforms adopted it. Although individual advertisers may adopt this definition and can adjust their exclusion lists accordingly to it, each one is only a small part of the larger picture. To solve the problem, we need to make a structural change.
Are the platforms more to blame?
It’s not that the platforms haven’t done anything. Google is now stopping publishers, advertisers, and creators monetizing content that denies that climate change exists. During COP26 Twitter made authoritative information about climate changes more accessible to people, while Facebook recently stepped up its internal processes on the topic. It’s all great but it won’t fix the problem. However, if they adopt the definition, they can begin to address it quickly. We’re volunteers at the CAN but we don’t want to spend our lives sending these companies updates and keeping our own networks updated on what disinformation trends they should be aware of.
What should advertisers do to succeed?
First, we’d urge advertisers to sign the open letter to show the strength and depth of feeling around the matter. Secondly, I’d point them to CAN’s misinformation manifesto, which has been drafted with experts, and is a really clear and practical resource for marketers who are looking at how they tackle misinformation broadly. Finally, I’d urge advertisers to adopt the definition that’s in the open letter and use it as a tool to help them understand what climate misinformation looks like and ensure their advertising doesn’t fund commentators or publishers who peddle those narratives.
We’ve seen so much good work around this COP that its clear companies are making corporate-wide strides to tackle climate change. Nevertheless, it’s important for any marketer who is thinking about this issue to understand that there’s a strong possibility that if they’re not considering whether their media spending is funding climate misinformation and disinformation, then it’s working against those charitable intentions. All marketers should audit their media spending.