Follow RT on RT has defended its reporting on climate change after a UK think tank listed it among a set of 10 “fringe” news outlets and accused it of spreading “baseless, unscientific climate denial.”
The collection of outlets dubbed the “Toxic Ten” by the controversial Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) – a UK-based nonprofit – are reportedly responsible for almost 70% of all “interactions” with climate-change denial content on Facebook. The CCDH study features the right-wing Breitbart news at the top of its list of so-called “superpolluter” publishers.
Both RT.com and Sputnik News are placed ninth on the list, which accuses both outlets of “pushing disinformation.” The study, which was shared with the Washington Post, blasts RT as the “foreign disinformation arm of the Russian state” and implies it is working in cahoots with Russian state energy giant Gazprom.
RT deputy editor in chief Anna Belkina hit back against the classification, countering that the outlet publishes a plurality of views on the subject and saying that such an approach promoted healthy public discussion.
In a statement to the Post, she said RT does not “shy away from tackling the global concern of climate change, nor would we disregard the variety of views essential to a healthy public discourse on its effects.”
Elsewhere in the study, the CCDH research pinpoints an RT.com op-ed on Covid-19 and “climate alarmism” from January 13, 2021, by sociology professor Frank Furedi. The piece argues that Covid-19 had afforded “doom-mongers” the opportunity to raise fears of extinction by linking the pandemic to climate change and overpopulation.
However, the study fails to point out that – as is standard journalistic practice – all RT.com op-eds are clearly identified as such, with the disclaimer that the author’s views “do not necessarily represent those of RT.” In fact, the CCDH study does not even mention that the article in question is an op-ed at all.
The study also revisits a 2020 report from the Oxford Internet Institute which dramatically labelled RT “one of the most important organizations in the global political economy of disinformation.” That study included interviews with 23 one-time staff members (out of 240 who had been contacted). Of those interviewed, 21 had already left the company – and the report ultimately produced little evidence to suggest that RT does not function like any other modern-day newsroom.
The other publications on the list after Breitbart are (in order of ranking), the Western Journal, Newsmax, Townhall Media, Media Research Center, The Washington Times, The Federalist Papers, Daily Wire and Patriot Post. Taken together, the group apparently has a reach of some 186 million followers on mainstream social media platforms.
The other arm of the climate “disinformation campaigns” are the Big Tech firms like Facebook and Google, according to the study. It notes that Facebook had failed to attach information labels to 92% of posts from the ‘Toxic Ten’ outlets – despite promising to do so. It also highlighted how the group earned some $3.6 million in ad revenue from Google over the past half year.
The study does quietly admit that RT.com does not carry Google ads – instead using digital ads from Taboola which “typically promotes content at the bottom of news articles and that states it has a commitment to minimizing [its] environmental impact.”
Meanwhile, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone has described the CCDH study’s methodology as “flawed” since its sample size of over 700,000 interactions with some 7,000 climate-change articles on the platform represented only 0.3% of the “over 200 million interactions on English public climate change content” over the period studied.
RT is increasingly a target of smear campaigns by Western media and government officials. Last month, YouTube abruptly deleted RT’s German-language channels permanently, apparently due to “medical misinformation” in four videos related to Covid-19 – without actually highlighting the apparent misinformation.
RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan commented at the time that the efforts against RT stemmed from its rapid audience growth, which had put it ahead of giants like Berlin’s state-run international broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
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