A US-BASED conservative media outlet with a history of promoting conspiracy theories, The Epoch Times, has been referred to the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) by Global Witness.

A Global Witness investigation reveals that the news site has published adverts in the UK on Facebook and Instagram that deny the existence of climate change and question its severity.

As a result of the investigation, Meta has blocked Epoch Times London’s ability to post adverts for repeatedly violating their ads policies, though the ads have already been viewed more than a million times.

UK advertising rules state that “Marketing communications must not materially mislead”. Adverts that make demonstrably false claims about climate science breach this rule. These ads include false statements such as “Arctic ice is not melting” and “higher CO2 levels are not a problem”.

The investigation found that The Epoch Times spent more than £30,000 on adverts in the UK on Facebook and Instagram over the last three months, and £11,300 on the four ads for which Global Witness submitted complaints to the ASA.

“After sowing division and disinformation in the US, everyone in the UK should be alarmed that the Epoch Times is using the same playbook here. 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”, said Nienke Palstra, campaign strategy lead at Global Witness.

The Epoch Times is a US-based media outlet whose founders are practitioners of the Falun Gong religious movement which is banned in China. In 2019, the Epoch Times spent more than $1.5 million over a six-month period on Facebook ads that praised Trump and peddled conspiracy theories. In August 2019, it was banned from advertising on Facebook in the US after it bypassed transparency rules. Since then, Facebook has taken down more than 600 accounts it said were tied to The Epoch Times for violating their policies. Global Witness’ new findings suggest the Epoch Times is now turning its attention to the UK during an election year.

“The ease with which these misleading climate denial adverts were approved and shown over a million times signals not just a bad actor but a broken system”, said Nienke Palstra. “As UK political campaigning ramps up, the ASA must urgently investigate and take robust action against climate lies.”

Global Witness is calling for:

  • The UK’s ASA to open an investigation into whether The Epoch Times breaches the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code and, if so, to ban these adverts
  • Social media platforms to investigate whether any advertising or monetised content that The Epoch Times or related entities may have run on their platforms breaches their policies.

A spokesperson for The Epoch Times said 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.” However, climate change is a fact, not an opinion, and advertising rules in the UK and elsewhere require ads to be truthful.

A spokesperson for Meta said: “Following an investigation, we have blocked Epoch Times London’s ability to post adverts for repeatedly violating our ads policies. We take climate change seriously, which is why we are taking steps to make sure people have access to reliable information while reducing climate misinformation.” Meta said that it has a large network of fact checkers and that it reject ads that contain content debunked by third-party fact checkers.

* Read the findings of the Global Witness investigation into The Epoch Times here.

* Source: Global Witness