The most popular climate change story across social media in the past six months used a debunked survey from the late 1990s to claim that "tens of thousands of scientists" had declared global warming a "hoax", a DeSmog analysis has found.
Published on YourNewsWire, the story was shared, clicked or "liked" 557,000 times on social media, with 555,000 of those engagements from Facebook. The story's author worked for many years with UK conspiracy theorist David Icke.
DeSmog used the social media analytics tool BuzzSumo to find the most popular climate stories globally over the last six months, using the search term "climate change".
The YourNewsWire story appears on a site mixed with stories about aliens, conspiracy theories, and anti-Clinton rhetoric together with some serious news. The story was shared on Facebook three times as much as the second most popular article, published by the LA Times.
The LA Times article, from November, reported the comments of California Governor Jerry Brown, who warned President-elect Donald Trump his state would not walk away from its climate change commitments.
Facebook's Fake News Problem
The rise of so called "alternative" and "hyper partisan" news sites, often publishing faked or unverified content under sensational headlines with little to no journalistic rigour, has come into sharp focus after Trump's election victory.
BuzzFeed News also used analysis from BuzzSumo to reveal that fake election stories were more popular on Facebook than articles produced by journalists on major outlets including the New York Times and NBC News.
As reported by BuzzFeed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the company is working on ways to reduce the number of hoax stories appearing on news feeds.
Debunked Oregon Petition
The YourNewsWire story ran under the headline: "Tens of Thousands Of Scientists Declare Climate Change A Hoax" and is a mish-mash of old debunked talking points together with content from other websites also claiming climate change is a hoax.
The intro to the story reads: "A staggering 30,000 scientists have come forward confirming that man-made climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the elite in order to make money."
The story only briefly references the source for the "30,000 scientists" claim which is, in fact, a survey released 18 years ago known as the Oregon Petition.
An analysis of the petition has found only 39 of the 31,000 signatories actually had a relevant climate science qualification.
Much of the content of the YourNewsWire story was cut and pasted from an article published three days earlier on the website Natural News.
That story, shared more than 80,000 times, ran with the headline: "Over 30,000 scientists say 'Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming' is a complete hoax and science lie."
What Is YourNewsWire.com?
YourNewsWire is based in Los Angeles and run by Sean Adl-Tabatabai, who registered the website in August 2014.
Adl-Tabatabai had previously worked with the UK-based conspiracy theorist David Icke as a webmaster and content producer on DavidIcke.com.
Icke, who has a large cult following, has claimed the moon is a "hollowed-out planetoid" and that powerful illuminati control governments around the world. Icke also thinks climate change is a hoax.