Prince Harry today welcomed Google into his Travalyst sustainable travel initiative in a move that will raise eyebrows given his vocal criticism of big tech.
The Duke of Sussex has previously slammed US technology giants as ‘incredibly powerful and consolidated gatekeepers’ and criticised disinformation being spread on social media about issues like climate change.
Travalyst said partnering with Google, which also owns video sharing site YouTube, was a ‘significant step forward’ and praised the firm for its ‘commitment to helping consumers make more sustainable travel choices’.
Following the storming of the US Capitol in January, Harry criticised social media firms for their ‘hands-off’ towards disinformation on their platforms. YouTube itself has repeatedly come in for direct criticism for hosting falsehoods.
Prince Harry’s Travalyst organisation has now welcomed Google into its fold. Pictured: Harry at a launch event for the organisation in 2019
Harry told Harpers Bazaar: ‘It is widely acknowledged that social media played a role in the genocide in Myanmar and was used as a vehicle to incite violence against the Rohingya people, which is a human rights issue.
‘And in Brazil, social media provided a conduit for misinformation which ultimately brought destruction to the Amazon, which is an environmental and global health issue.
‘In a way, taking a predominately hands-off approach to problems for so long is itself an exercise in power.’
In January last year, US non-profit Avaaz found that YouTube’s algorithm was promoting videos refuting the reality of man-made climate change.
Many of these videos were accompanied by adverts, meaning the site was effectively ‘monetising’ global warming denialism, the report said.
YouTube was also among the platforms blamed for spreading false claims of fraud prior to the US election.
It attracted similar criticism during the 2020 elections in Myanmar after videos spread on the platform claiming election interference.
YouTube was slammed for its light-touch approach and only appeared to block false election claims that people complained about, or if the material otherwise violated its broader guidelines on hate speech and harassment, researchers said.
‘When it comes to hate speech and disinformation in Myanmar, YouTube is the new frontier,’ said Victoire Rio, an adviser at a civil society group studying social media, said at the time.
YouTube did not respond to those criticisms but said it consistently enforced its guidelines and had deleted more than 1.8 million channels for policy violations in the third quarter of 2020, including more than 54,000 for hate speech.
The statement accompanying Travalyst’s announcement of the partnership today
This is not the first time Harry has found himself working with Silicon Valley giants.
The Duke of Sussex was said to have given a passionate speech about saving the planet while being watched by Naomi Campbell and Leonardo DiCaprio, among other celebrities and power brokers.
Kate Brandt, Chief Sustainability Officer at Google, said after today’s announcement: ‘Addressing the challenge of climate change requires us to find solutions at scale, and this is especially true when it comes to travel and tourism.
‘By working with Travalyst and our industry partners, we aim to build tools and technology that enable travelers and businesses around the world to prioritize sustainability.’
Travalyst’s stated mission is to make the tourism industry more sustainable make it easier for travellers to make eco-friendly choices.
It has brought together some of the biggest operators in the travel industry – including Visa, Booking.com and Skyscanner – to help tourists pick low carbon options more easily and chose destinations that will have more benefit to local communities.
The name is a mixture of the words ‘travel’ and ‘catalyst’, with Harry explaining when he launched it in September 2019 that it came from ‘viewing our role in sustainable travel as catalysts to accelerate positive changes in travel’.
Last year it emerged Travalyst altered the wording of it’s website to reflect the step back that Prince Harry took from royal life, replacing that Travalyst is ‘led by HRH The Duke of Sussex’ on its homepage with simply ‘led by The Duke of Sussex’.
Its work has taken a hit after the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic halted the majority of international leisure travel, causing what Harry dubbed a crisis of ‘no tourists and therefore no income’.
At a global summit in July, the Duke said: ‘None of us here could have predicted the global shock and impact that Covid-19 is having on the world, especially on travel and the local communities who depend on tourism.
‘Many of you joining us today rely on visitors for your livelihoods. Businesses are hurting significantly, and I’ve heard from some of you who are currently struggling to put food on your family’s tables and make ends meet because there are no tourists and therefore no income. We need to build back, but we need to build back better.’