Google, YouTube, advertising|Apr 24, 2020|CEP Staff

YouTube Moves To Undermine Its Program Protecting Advertisers From Extremist Videos

New Policy Reduces Transparency On Ad Placements Appearing Alongside Hateful Content

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported on efforts by Google-owned YouTube to restrict the platform’s “brand safety partners” from being able to share critical information about advertising on its video platform. According to the report, YouTube has altered its contractual Terms of Service which, if signed, prevents third-party auditors from disclosing to clients “when ads have run in videos with sensitive subject matter, including hate speech, adult content, children's content, profanity, violence and illegal substances.”

This change makes it more difficult for advertisers to know when their products appear before questionable content—including conspiracy videos, propaganda, and other extremist material—that persist on YouTube. It also undermines the work of outside monitoring firms Google first hired three years ago to monitor any advertisement on YouTube that coincided alongside videos containing objectionable or hateful content.

“Google/YouTube wants to receive praise for allowing brand safety monitors to track where ads appear on the popular video-sharing platform—a move long overdue that only occurred because of significant pressure from advertisers. However, it seems that the tech giant is now trying to hinder the work of third-party partners by instituting policies meant to obscure crucial data about ad placement,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen. “It is troubling that YouTube is seeking to conceal the fact that it is still unable to remove extremist videos all together, and that it is unable to prevent ads of responsible corporations from appearing next to such material. YouTube’s behavior clearly illustrates that the company, despite arguing otherwise, is not interested in being transparent and accountable to advertisers.”

Google’s decision to work with outside monitoring firms came only after significant pressure from marketing and advertising agencies when it was revealed that ads ran alongside terrorist content. Similarly, a year later in 2018, Google succumbed to pressure from advertisers after it was discovered that ads from over 300 companies and organizations appeared on YouTube channels promoting violent and extremist content.

As CEP Senior Advisor Dr. Hany Farid wrote in a USA Today op-ed, advertising revenue is a crucial way to influence tech companies—they must be hit on their bottom line until the industry finally decides to take the issue of online extremism seriously. Dr. Farid said that corporate CEOs can move to pause their social media advertising buys and “stand up and say unequivocally: Enough is enough. We will no longer be the fuel that allows social media to lead to deaths of innocents, to interfere in democratic elections, to be the vessel for distributing child sexual abuse material, extremism material, and dangerous conspiracies … These corporate titans should lead not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is in their corporate interest. It is bad for business when their product and corporate logo is advertised against terror-related, child sexual abuse, conspiracy, hateful and harmful content.”

To read CEP Senior Advisor Dr. Hany Farid’s op-ed in USA Today, please click here.