A left-wing advocacy group that seeks to muzzle right-tilting media is facing pushback over a campaign targeting leading conservative outlets over “digital climate change denial.”
The British-based Center for Countering Digital Hate said in a 30-page report released Tuesday that 10 publications “account for 69% of interactions on climate denial Facebook posts.” It urged Google and Facebook to cut off their advertising relationships with the publications.
“We are calling on Facebook and Google to stop promoting and funding climate denial, start labeling it as misinformation, and stop giving the advantages of their enormous platforms to lies and misinformation,” center CEO Imran Ahmed, who has served as a senior adviser to Labor Party officials, said in “The Toxic Ten.”
The study scored write-ups in a host of left-tilting media outlets, including the BBC, Daily Kos, Mashable, The Guardian and The Washington Post.
“These 10 Publishers Produce Most of the Climate Lies on Facebook, Study Says,” said the Mother Jones headline on the reprinted article in The Guardian. “And the company is doing too little to stop them.”
Taking exception to the report were some of its targets. Leading conservative media figures dismissed the findings as pseudoscientific propaganda from a leftist operation with ties to a pro-China funder.
“Digital brownshirts are attacking conservative organizations for daring to have an honest debate on climate policy,” said Media Research Center founder and President L. Brent Bozell. “These anti-free speech bigots want to shut down anyone who dares to disagree with them.”
In addition to the Media Research Center, the outlets named were Breitbart News, The Western Journal, Newsmax, Townhall Media, The Washington Times, The Federalist Papers, The Daily Wire and The Patriot Post, as well as “Russian State Media,” a reference to RT.com and Sputnik News.
Christopher Dolan, president and executive editor of The Washington Times, accused the center of seeking to tar prominent U.S. conservative news and opinion outlets by lumping them with Moscow state-sponsored websites.
“This is not a real study. It’s a fundraiser for a group that wants to censor people and has no respect for the First Amendment and civil discourse,” said Mr. Dolan. “It uses innuendo and a bizarre methodology to conflate established independent news organizations such as The Washington Times with Russian state-sponsored outlets or websites it claims are funded by oil and gas interests. Neither of those accusations is true of The Times.”
He said The Times is “proud to offer our readers news and commentary that explore all aspects of climate change and energy and environmental policy.”
The Times reached out to the Center for Countering Digital Hate for comment.
An example of the newspaper’s “climate misinformation” featured in the report was an October 2020 op-ed by longtime syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, which was clearly labeled “commentary” and ran in the opinion section, not the news pages.
Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow blasted the center’s “ongoing efforts to censor conservatives” and the “fake news they manufacture.”
Last year, the center urged advertisers to “blacklist” 10 conservative sites as part of its “Stop Funding Fake News” campaign, part of what the Capital Research Center described as “liberal cancellation movements” that seek to “de-platform the right-of-center networks and to silence right-of-center reporting.”
“This time is no different — their ‘study’ not only misrepresents our reporting, its methodology is flawed to the point that the results are statistically irrelevant,” Mr. Marlow said in a statement. “Real journalists would not give it the time of day, but being ideologically driven, many are shamefully giving it uncritical press-release treatment.”
The 10 conservative news and information sites targeted in the 2020 campaign over their Black Lives Matter reporting included The Federalist, Zero Hedge, American Thinker, WND and Big League Politics. Breitbart made the 2020 and 2021 lists.
Mr. Marlow ripped the British nonprofit as a “made-up group of left-wing operatives, funded in part by a pro-Communist-China foundation in Switzerland.”
He referred to the Oak Foundation, which gave the center at least $100,000 in 2020, according to the Foundation Directory Online. In 2018, Oak donated $1 million to the ClimateWorks Foundation to “support the greening of the Belt and Road Initiative,” a Chinese global infrastructure project that the State Department described last year as a “debt trap” for developing nations.
Breitbart published two stories this week digging into the center’s background, which served as a reminder of the risks of attacking someone who buys ink by the barrel or, in this case, pixels.
“Pro-Censorship Group Center for Countering Digital Hate Funded by Pro-China Investment Org,” said Tuesday’s headline on Breitbart.
The “Toxic Ten” report demanded that the social media companies “either stop doing business with climate deniers or stop claiming to be ‘green,’” but Facebook was unimpressed with the study and called it intentionally misleading.
“This analysis uses a flawed methodology designed to mislead people about the scale of climate misinformation on Facebook,” said the tech giant. “The 700,000 interactions this report says were on climate denial represent 0.3% of the over 200 million interactions on English public climate change content from Pages and public groups over the same time period.”
In February, Facebook began adding informational labels to some posts directing users to its Climate Science Information Center, which includes a section “that features facts that debunk common climate myths.”
“But we continue to combat climate misinformation by reducing the distribution of anything rated false or misleading by one of our fact-checking partners — and — rejecting any ads that have been debunked,” said the platform’s statement.
The center said it used the social analytics tool NewsWhip to examine “6,983 climate denial articles published between 12 October 2020 and 11 October 2021 that featured in posts that received a total of 709,057 Facebook interactions, which includes likes, comments and shares.”
“The resulting data revealed that the top ten publishers, ranked by the number of Facebook user interactions that posts featuring their articles received, were responsible for 69.69% of all interactions with content in our sample,” said the center’s analysis.
Asked about the report, Google cited its recently announced policy change that “explicitly prohibits publishers and YouTube Creators from monetizing content that promotes climate change denial.”
“This policy will go into effect on November 8 and our enforcement will be as targeted as removing ads from individual pages with violating content,” the Google statement said.
That includes calling climate change a hoax or a scam, denying that the climate is warming, and denying that humans contribute to climate change. At the same time, Google said it will differentiate “between content that states a false claim as fact, versus content that reports on or discusses that claim.”
How the policy will be applied remains to be seen, but it’s hard to see how some of the articles flagged by the center as “climate misinformation” would violate the Google standard.
For example, the report highlighted a January op-ed in Newsmax by University of Houston space architecture endowed professor Larry Bell on the history of planetary temperatures dating back 600 million years titled “Joe Biden Needs a Climate History Lesson.”
In a statement, Newsmax said it “has never denied climate change.”
“We do report and cover on the legitimate debate over climate science, its impact and the issues surrounding it,” said Newsmax. “We find it ludicrous and dangerous that discussing such matters is considered by this group ‘hate’ and an excuse for censorship.”
George C. Upper III, editor-in-chief of The Western Journal, said “this ‘report’ represents an example of political activism masquerading as science.”
“The Western Journal has an 82 percent passing grade from independent ‘Internet Trust Tool’ Newsguard,” Mr. Upper said in a statement. “Climate change makes up a minuscule portion of our reporting, but when we do cover it, we don’t do so as described by CCDH. In fact, the article they cite on page 13 clearly acknowledges climate change as ’a serious, complex issue.’ It’s hard to see how anyone could describe that as ‘denial.’”
The Western Journal article was headlined “More Natural Disasters Are Not Occurring: UN Study Contradicts Widely Held Idea,” citing a World Meteorological Organization report released in September.