Programmatic Digital Advertisements and Climate Disinformation

A new briefing, Programmatic Digital Advertisements and Climate Disinformation, finds that major advertising and media platforms - particularly Google - are actively funding and profiting from climate disinformation in the United States.

The study analysed 113 top US climate disinformation sites from October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022 to determine the extent to which major online ad networks are monetising climate disinformation by serving up advertisements on climate disinformation content.

It found that almost 80% of the climate disinformation sites identified were issuing some form of advertisement from one or more of the major ad networks – meaning that major advertising networks like Google, Amazon, and Taboola are profiting from and funding climate disinformation.

The major online networks – to include Google, Taboola, Outbrain and Criterio – all have policies which restrict the display of their advertising on sites that publish “fake news” or other kinds of intentionally-misleading content. Google even has a clear policy on climate disinformation, prohibiting ads and the monetization of content that “contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change”, which they proudly announced in October 2021.

Google was identified as the largest advertising network utilised by climate disinformation sites, with Google’s display ads on nearly half (49%) of all the disinformation sites tracked, and it was responsible for over 97% of all weekly visits across the websites studied.

The report further identifies that if advertisers bought ad placements on these climate disinformation sites as an industry median price cost-per-click, then Google would potentially have received $7.67 million in display ad revenue over the past year from such sites.

The findings show a deep misalignment between the major online network’s policies and active efforts to publicly portray themselves as proactive on climate action and their actions in funding and profiting from climate disinformation.