To mark Earth Day, TikTok will begin removing 'climate change misinformation'

The company says it will ban "content denying the existence of climate change or the factors that contribute to it."

A close-up of TikTok's logo.
President Biden and lawmakers from both political parties in the U.S. have recently moved to ban TikTok from government devices. (Kiichiro Sato/ AP, file)

Controversial social media app TikTok announced Friday that it would begin removing “climate change misinformation” from its platform.

“On April 21, we will begin to ramp up enforcement of a new climate change misinformation policy which removes climate change misinformation that undermines well-established scientific consensus, such as content denying the existence of climate change or the factors that contribute to it,” the company said in a statement ahead of Earth Day on Saturday. “As we do for all misinformation policies, we will work with independent fact-checking partners when applying this policy to help assess the accuracy of content.”

Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok now has an estimated 150 million regular users in the U.S., the large majority of which are between the ages of 18 and 34. Instagram, which is owned by Meta, counts 127 million U.S. users, most of which fall into that same age demographic. Twitter, where climate change misinformation has run wild since being bought by Elon Musk, has roughly 80 million active users in the U.S., an audience that skews slightly older than the other two platforms.

President Biden and lawmakers from both political parties in the U.S. have moved to ban TikTok from government devices, and many are seeking to outlaw the platform on American phones because, they say, the app’s data collection practices can be used by the Chinese Communist Party.

In a contentious March hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew effectively told lawmakers that the notion his app was a Chinese tool for spying on Americans was itself misinformation.

“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew wrote in his prepared testimony.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23. (Jose Luis Magana/AP, file)

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released last month found that a majority of Americans — 54% — said they believe TikTok is a national security threat to the United States, while 23% said it is not, and another 23% were unsure. And 55% of Americans said TikTok should be banned, while 25% said it shouldn’t.

In that light, TikTok’s announcement that it was banning climate change misinformation might simply represent another shot in a public relations war or an effort to tailor its content to its core users.

A 2021 Pew Research poll, for instance, found that “younger generations in the U.S. are especially likely to express an interest in addressing climate change.”

For years, there has been a scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is what is causing global temperatures to rise in recent decades. In 2021, for instance, more than 99.9% of 88,125 peer-reviewed studies concluded that human beings were the main driver of climate change. That reality has been a part of the social media landscape for younger Americans.

“Popular hashtags such as #nature, #ocean and #climateaction have garnered 44 billion, 17 billion, and over 1 billion views respectively in the past year, showing our community loves creating content that celebrates, protects and restores nature through innovative solutions,” TikTok said in its statement announcing the ban on climate change misinformation.