Funding for Richard Spencer, David Duke and other white-racist hate groups has traditionally been scarce. Your typical white-wing racist is no Rocket Scientist. The Internet provides the alt-right not only the opportunity to spread their message – but through advertising add-ons to make money with each click. Pull up a racist video, and get an Amazon ad in the margins. For each view the advertiser pays Google, who pays the bigots. Google and companies like Facebook have long ignored the content and environment of their streams, allowing hate groups and trolls to fester while taking a position that it is someone else’s fault.
Looks like Google is trying that again.
Perhaps one of the reasons Google has little sensitivity to the issue, is hey hire so few minorities?
Google has been thrown onto the back foot by a mass withdrawal of advertising from YouTube, triggered by concerns about extremist content.
Having apparently failed to realise until now that their ads have been showing up next to hate speech and homophobia, corporations and media agencies have said they plan to pull their entire ad spend from the Google-owned company.
One of the latest to do so is the UK arm of France’s Havas, one of the world’s largest ad agencies, whose clients include Domino’s, Emirates and the BBC. It has pulled all its UK advertising – currently worth around £175 million ($217 million) a year: “@Havas_MGUK has made decision to protect brands it represents in absence of reassurance or change of policy from YT,” tweets CEO and country manager Paul Frampton Calero.
Corporations including the BBC and the Guardian have also pulled their ads, along with L’Oreal, Honda and major supermarket chain Sainsbury’s; and GroupM, part of ad giant WPP, has hinted it could follow suit.
The row really began with a report from The Times that revealed that extremist YouTube videos from the likes of American white nationalist David Duke and Holocaust-denying fundamentalist pastor Steven Anderson were carrying mainstream ads.
The ads are placed by the company’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange Service, AdX, which uses programmatic trading to allocate ads automatically. These ads have been making money for the extremists – around £6 per 1,000 pageviews – as well as for Google itself.
As the row rumbled on, the company was called for talks at the UK Cabinet Office this afternoon, with Home Affairs Select Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper describing its activities as ‘extremely troubling’.
“It is inexplicable to us that Google can move very fast to remove material from YouTube when it is found to be copyrighted, but that the same prompt action is not taken when the material involves proscribed organisations and hateful and illegal content,” she wrote in a letter to the company.
“The Committee expects to hear from you on how you are using some of YouTube’s very significant revenue to put this problem right by devoting sufficient resources to ensure that vile and illegal material is removed proactively from your platforms, and that neither you nor those that create these videos profit from hatred.”
The government has now pulled all advertising, including military recruitment and blood donation campaigns – and demanded to know whether Google will give it a refund.
“It is totally unacceptable that taxpayer-funded advertising has appeared next to inappropriate internet content – and that message was conveyed very clearly to Google,” a government spokesperson tells Forbes.
“The Cabinet Office has told Google it expects to see a plan and a timetable for work to improve protection of government adverts to ensure this doesn’t happen again. YouTube advertising remains on hold while that work is carried out.”
And, says the spokesperson, Google will be called back next week for a follow-up meeting at which it will be expected to promise further action.
Google is, well, practically grovelling.
“We’ve heard from our advertisers and agencies loud and clear that we can provide simpler, more robust ways to stop their ads from showing against controversial content,” says UK managing director Ronan Harris in a statement.
“While we have a wide variety of tools to give advertisers and agencies control over where their ads appear, such as topic exclusions and site category exclusions, we can do a better job of addressing the small number of inappropriately monetized videos and content.”
He adds that the company is now reviewing its policies and plans to make changes.
However, the cynic might note that these changes will, he says, ‘give brands more control over where their ads appear across YouTube and the Google Display Network’. In other words, they will put the ball in the advertisers’ court.
Next time this sort of thing happens – and it will – Google will be able to pass on at least some of the blame.