Google’s Discover feed has promoted climate change-denying content to readers, according to a report published by BuzzFeed News on September 5th.
About a year ago, Google launched an updated tool to tailor the content feed on its apps and mobile browser homepage. The Discover feed, Google said in its launch announcement, “makes exploring your interests easier than ever.” BuzzFeed News spoke to eight people who saw articles in their feeds that refute climate science. Each of the people it spoke to either works in an environmental field or is interested in climate change.
The content that users reported seeing had titles like “Bipartisan Panel of Scientists Confirms Humans are NOT Responsible for Past 20,000 Years of Global Warming.” In reality, mountains of evidence have led to a scientific consensus that points to humans as the culprit behind climate change.
Google’s search tool and feed are supposed to help users find information that will be most “useful.” The company reassures users that it works with external search quality raters to assess “how well a website gives people who click on it what they are looking for, and evaluate the quality of results based on the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of the content.” Its search page is one of the most trafficked websites in the world.
Seeing inaccurate or deceptive content on climate change on a trusted platform like Google can be eyebrow-raising at best and misinforming at worst. H. Curtis Spalding, an environmental professor at Brown University who had previously worked as a regional administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, told BuzzFeed News that when he saw a blog denying climate change on Discover, “at first, I was confused by them.” Spalding clicked on one that he thought might be credible. After that, he said, similar content appeared on his feed.
What's worth noting on our Google Discover story is that this is separate from search. Google's service determined users were interested in a topic like global warming and then proactively sent them links to climate change denier sites https://t.co/dyW0ImLjcq
— Ryan Mac 🙃 (@RMac18) September 5, 2019
Pushing climate-denying content to users isn’t exactly the image Google wants to project. It has several initiatives to combat climate change in the works. Last year, it started an initiative that estimates the carbon footprint of individual cities, and in 2017, it committed to purchasing as much renewable energy as it uses. By the following year, it had exceeded that goal. The company prides itself on “making decisions that have an impact beyond our walls,” it said in a June blog post. However, Google also came under fire earlier this year for financially supporting a conference that featured a talk focused on denying climate change.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.