Pro-Trump Platform Promotes Climate Science Denial Ads to Millions Across Europe

Campaigners have referred the Epoch Times to the UK advertising regulator for “stoking the climate culture war” on social media.
A mashup of three Epoch Times adverts posted on Facebook. Credit: The Epoch Times

The pro-Trump Epoch Times has run hundreds of anti-climate social media adverts in Europe since the beginning of 2024 that have been seen millions of times, DeSmog can reveal. 

Epoch Times accounts in Europe have run 425 adverts on Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter) that have attacked or undermined climate science, green energy, or climate action since the start of the year. These adverts have been run in the UK, Germany, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, appearing on social media feeds at least 2.3 million times across Facebook and Instagram, and 3.1 million times on X. 

These anti-climate ads were active for 22 days on average on Meta platforms (Facebook and Instagram), while they were displayed for 9.5 days on average on X.

Four of the adverts posted by Epoch Times on Meta have now been referred to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), a UK watchdog, by the campaign group Global Witness. The group is calling for the ASA to open an investigation into whether the Epoch Times breached the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code and, if so, to ban these adverts.

The Epoch Times claims to be the fastest growing independent news outlet in the United States. It claims to host websites across 22 languages in 35 countries, publishing online and in print. The publication has gained a substantial online following in recent years, amassing more than 10 million followers across its various Facebook accounts.

Based in New York, the Epoch Times is affiliated with the Falun Gong new religious movement in China and is staunchly anti-communist. Though the source of its income isn’t publicly declared, former employees told the New York Times that the publication was financed “by a combination of subscriptions, ads and donations from wealthy Falun Gong practitioners.”

The publication has propelled itself on Facebook by filling its feeds with viral, feel-good videos alongside its often partisan news coverage. 

According to NewsGuard, an independent company that rates the credibility of news sites, Epoch Times articles “frequently include distorted, misleading, or unsubstantiated claims.” The Epoch Times claims on its website that its reporters are “guided by the highest code of conduct and ethics”.

The Epoch Times spent at least $1.5 million on adverts in support of then Republican President Donald Trump from 2018 to 2019 – more than any group other than the Trump campaign. 

The publication was banned from advertising by Meta following these revelations, and the social media company told DeSmog that it ”continues to enforce this ban”. However, a number of Epoch Times offshoots have been allowed to promote climate science denial across Europe this year. 

Many of these adverts have explicitly questioned the contribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) to climate change. The adverts have featured statements including “Several climate scientists say CO2 is essential and higher levels are not a problem”, and “What if more CO2 is actually good for the environment?”

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s foremost climate science body, has stated that carbon dioxide “is responsible for most of global warming” since the late 19th century, which has increased the “severity and frequency of weather and climate extremes, like heat waves, heavy rains, and drought”.

The adverts ran for months, and reached millions of people, despite Meta’s pledge to tackle climate misinformation. Ten were removed prior to DeSmog contacting Meta, of which six were removed over a failure to include an appropriate advertising disclaimer.

“After sowing division and disinformation in the U.S., everyone in the UK should be alarmed that the Epoch Times is using the same playbook here,” said Nienke Palstra, campaign strategy lead at Global Witness. “We have already seen politicians trying to stoke a climate culture war and the Epoch Times is spending big to tap into this sentiment. We cannot allow the future of our planet to be put at threat for the political gain of extremists and populists.”

A spokesperson for the Epoch Times told Global Witness that scientists have always differed in their opinion on climate change and that “To ban different opinions does not help a civilised open society and erodes freedom of speech.”

Climate Denial Content

The bulk of the anti-climate adverts seen by DeSmog were posted by Epoch Times London, a Facebook page created in October 2023 that has fewer than 600 followers. 

Many of the adverts posted by Epoch Times London questioned climate science, for example claiming that “the greenhouse effect is real but irrelevant”, and that “new studies undercut the ‘scientifically empty’ global warming narrative.”

One advert entitled “Scientists Expose Major Problems With Climate Change Data” was linked to an Epoch Times article that claimed climate change can be best explained by “natural variation”. The article also said that attempts to create a scientific consensus around human-caused climate change are the product of “deliberate fraud” according to “some experts.”

The same article quoted Willie Soon, a scientist who has cast doubt on climate science and who has openly admitted accepting research funding from fossil fuel interests.

A number of the Epoch Times London adverts suggested that the consensus on climate change is based on a wilful misinterpretation of evidence by the scientific community, asking questions such as “Climate change or data corruption? Experts question mainstream narrative.”

DeSmog’s analysis found that Epoch Times London ran at least 392 unique adverts on Meta since the start of the year that attacked or attempted to undermine climate science, green energy, or climate action.

Of those adverts, 146 were still active prior to DeSmog contacting Meta. According to an analysis of Meta’s ad archive, Epoch Times London has spent between £12,600 and £51,715 on its anti-climate advertising since the start of the year, with those adverts having been seen between 1.9 million and 2.5 million times. Meta has now blocked Epoch Times London’s ability to post adverts.

According to Companies House, Epoch Times London was incorporated in 2014. The publication drew criticism in the UK in 2020 for posting free editions of its paper to Brighton and Hove residents, the front page of which included claims that the Chinese Communist Party had deliberately covered up evidence of COVID-19’s existence. 

Following complaints from constituents, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, the Labour MP for Kemptown in Brighton, publicly criticised the Epoch Times in the House of Commons and called on Royal Mail to stop posting its print edition.

Epoch’s European Operations

Elsewhere in Europe, DeSmog has seen evidence of anti-climate advertising from Epoch Times-affiliated accounts. 

The most prolific source of these adverts has been the German Epoch Times account on X, which has run 61 anti-climate adverts since the beginning of the year, reaching at least 1.5 million people and appearing 3.2 million times on X feeds across the German-speaking world. 

Of the adverts that made a funding declaration, all stated that they were paid for Epoch Times Europe Gmbh, a company that has existed in Germany since at least 2009 according to the country’s company register. 

A number of these adverts directly questioned the role of CO2 on climate change, saying that “CO2, especially anthropogenic emissions, hardly play a role”, “Climate change: CO2 not to blame”, “Climate change is too complex to blame on CO2”, and “CO2 is the most expensive fraud in history.”

While there were fewer ads run on Meta in Germany than in the UK, they still generated at least 100,000 impressions, representing an ad spend of between €1,500 and €3,777. 

An account run by German Epoch Times journalist Erik Rusch has also run at least 24 anti-climate adverts since its creation in January – though the adverts state that they were paid for by Rusch. 

Some of the adverts run by Epoch Times Germany suggested that wind turbines produce nefarious health effects, including claims such as, “Don’t ignore the health effects: Doctor warns against wind turbines”, and “Wind energy under scrutiny: Dr Bellut-Staeck on the low-frequency risks to humans and animals.”

One of the German adverts quoted Fritz Vahrenholt, who is a scientific advisor to the UK’s leading climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

Other adverts promoted by the German Epoch Times, as well as Epoch Times London, quoted fellow GWPF advisor Richard Lindzen. In one of these adverts, Lindzen was quoted as saying: “If we could get rid of 60 percent of CO2, we would all be dead.” 

Germany Epoch Times adverts also linked back to articles on its website, directing readers to the claim by climate science denier John F. Clauser that the perceived climate threat is a “dangerous corruption of science.” 

Another advert quoted Lindzen as asking, “Is climate change the existential threat we’ve been led to believe?” and linked to an Epoch Times interview with Lindzen on its YouTube series “American Thought Leaders”. 

Former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss was recently interviewed on this series, while a parallel series, “British Thought Leaders”, has interviewed a number of climate science deniers. Since the beginning of March, this series has featured Martin Durkin, Rupert Darwall, and GWPF advisor Gwythian Prins. These interviews were headlined: “The Science Simply Does Not Support the Ridiculous Hysteria Around Climate At All”, “This Obsession With Carbon Dioxide Emissions Has Led to Tragedy”, and “The World Is at War – The West’s Green Policies Are Playing Into Our Enemy’s Hands”.

Epoch Times Bulgaria has posted three anti-climate ads since the beginning of the year, one of which was entitled “scientists alarmed that there is no real evidence that CO2 is causing climate change”.

Meta has pledged to take action against false narratives on climate change, and the platform has committing to using a “suite of tools, such as fact checking and labels, to help combat climate misinformation.”

In May 2021, Facebook said that it would begin attaching informational labels to posts about climate change, directing users to the platform’s new “Climate Science Information Center”.

However, research conducted in 2022 by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Facebook is failing to flag at least half of climate misinformation content.

“Despite claiming to take climate misinformation seriously, Meta has a history of allowing climate disinformation posts with high-engagement to go unchecked,” said Ilana Berger, senior climate and energy disinformation researcher at the misinformation watchdog Media Matters. “If Meta is committed to combating climate disinformation on its platform, it must at the very least consistently enforce its existing policies.”

Meanwhile, following his takeover of Twitter in 2022, Elon Musk has slashed the number of staff who identify harmful content and misinformation. X did not respond to DeSmog’s request for comment.

“Climate misinformation threatens all of our futures – and with elections pending across Europe, the stakes could not be higher,” said Richard Wilson, director of the campaign group Stop Funding Heat. “But the same money that is fuelling this problem could also be the key to a solution. If enough advertisers speak out, and urge Facebook and Twitter to stop climate lies being promoted through their platforms, they will have to clean up their act.”

Joey Grostern is a climate reporter and researcher at DeSmog since April 2023. His work focuses on news media and has been covered by The Guardian, The Intercept, and The Nation. He also works freelance for Deutsche Welle in Berlin.

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