A month after TikTok updated its community guidelines, adding policies prohibiting content that includes climate change misinformation on the platform, the change took effect yesterday, April 21, coinciding with Earth Day, an annual global event aiming to mark the importance of devoting efforts to solving the climate crisis.
TikTok to Fight Climate Change Misinformation
According to TikTok’s announcement, the platform will no longer allow videos undermining “well-established scientific consensus” related to the climate crisis and the factors that contribute to it. However, the service will still allow content tackling discussions about the issue as long as it does not contradict the scientific facts.
The platform said it would start deleting the content violating the new policy starting yesterday. Any user searching for climate information will be directed to authoritative information sourced in partnership with the United Nations.
TikTok has been criticized over scientific and health misinformation on many occasions. In 2022, NewsGuard’s researchers found that TikTok was full of misinformation about, among other topics, climate change. Users suggested climate change was a hoax and wrote: “Climate change debunked” and “Climate change does not exist.”
As Artificial Intelligence tools invaded the web, TikTok’s new policy regarding climate change also included rules covering AI-generated content. The digitally altered or manipulated content on TikTok must now be posted with an appropriate tag, like “fake” or “altered.”
Believing in its community’s passion for sharing content and initiatives promoting environmentalism and climate activism, TikTok said the changes would help “empower accurate climate discussions and reduce harmful misinformation.” The service said it will cooperate with independent fact-checking partners when applying this policy to “help assess the accuracy of the content.”
TikTok’s new strategy to combat climate change misinformation looks similar to the approach taken by YouTube promoting links to the United Nations’ web pages about climate change.
The Climate Change Misinformation: A Serious Concern
In Misbar, through our fact-checking work, we found that climate change was subject to controversies and conspiracies on many occasions. As this issue becomes increasingly politicized, climate change misinformation is being shared at an alarming rate, especially after Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter.
Following the acquisition, denialism of climate change surfaced, and other claims undermining the issue flourished on Twitter. “What’s happening in the information ecosystem poses a direct threat to action,” said Jennie King, head of climate research and response at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based nonprofit. “It plants those seeds of doubt and makes people think maybe there isn’t scientific consensus.”
The institute, part of a coalition of environmental advocacy groups, released a report tracking climate change misinformation during and after the last U.N. climate summit. The document highlighted the growing problem of climate misinformation on Twitter and faulted other platforms for failing to enforce their policies prohibiting this type of misinformation.
By spreading in a fertile and crowded platform like Twitter and TikTok, climate change misinformation can cause confusion and uncertainty that would make it harder to fact-check information. Lack of contribution to solving the climate crisis may result, and people’s lives might be at stake.
Communicating on Climate Change Can Help
According to The United Nations, misinformation is widespread on the issue of climate change. It is an obstacle to progress in combating the climate crisis by distorting the perception of climate science and creating confusion that can lead to delays in saving the planet or harmful actions.
“Rhetoric and misinformation on climate change and the deliberate undermining of science have contributed to misperceptions of the scientific consensus, uncertainty, disregarded risk and urgency, and dissent,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The United Nations suggests communicating on climate change to tackle misinformation through education and mobilizing audiences to take action and confront the crisis. And as communication products (videos, podcasts, articles) can be an effective way to share facts, the organization advises people to use authoritative scientific information, convey the problem and the solution, and mobilize action by focusing on the opportunities and the relevance of the content. Moreover, strengthening fact-checking skills, developing strong critical thinking, and media literacy can also be effective in tackling climate change misinformation.