How Google is funding hate sites
Automation has changed advertising
Programmatic as a technology has changed digital advertising. Instead of buying a specific media space in advance (a website for example), advertisers choose an audience composed of a multitude of websites. Audiences are created by a complex set of data from different companies as well as the behaviour and habits of those surfing the web. Algorithms decide in real time who sees what type of ad, when and on which websites.
Programmatic is great to reach audiences on a big scale, but it is not so good when it comes to controlling where the ads appear. Companies who rule the market are well known: Facebook, Google are the most famous, Appnexus, Mediamath are less well known but trade huge amounts of ads every day. The programmatic industry is estimated to reach 30 billion of dollars in 2017.
Advertisers don’t know where their ads appear
Ad-Tech (Advertising technology) companies quickly understood that for advertisers it was key to know where their ads would appear. In the mind of consumers, the ad is quickly associated with the content of the website. So they ban certain websites from their platforms. As an advertiser, I know my ads don’t appear on porn sites or websites promoting ultra-violence, for example.
That is not the case for sites promoting hate and trying to destroy our democracies. In the past the influence of these sites didn’t matter. But today we live in a « post-fact world » where people believe fake news sites and the people behind them are now in power. We can’t (and must not) control the information but we can stop advertising giants like Google and Facebook from pouring money into their pockets without us consumers (or their client companies) having a say.
So people are telling advertisers their ads appear
Anyone and everyone can help. For example, here is how it works on Twitter with a group called Sleeping Giant. This is how they describe themselves:
“We are trying to stop racist websites by stopping their ad dollars. Many companies don't even know it's happening. It's time to tell them.”
This is successful armchair activism. Does it work? Yes it does, just look at how Breitbart lost deals with 935 companies from this simple action. By making brands aware their ads appear on such sites, you give them a choice to take a stand. From my experience, Swiss brands I communicated with all blacklisted such sites to make sure their ads would never appear on those sites anymore. But telling brands one by one is an impossible task. Ads are placed algorithmicallyand stopping them one-by-one will not stop new ones to go on being funded with these hate sites.
It is not enough, Google needs to blacklist hate sites from its Google Display Network
The only solution to stop money pouring into hate pockets is to tarnish the source. Companies like Google and Facebook have to stop hiding behind algorithms and take a stand for democracy. To put it simply, actions speak louder than words. It is not enough just to say you are against an executive order because your employees can’t make it to the US anymore, policy action is required. It is not enough just to donate to organisations that promote civil rights when a lot of that money also funds hate. What is at stake here is bigger than short term shareholders interests. It is the future of our society and maybe humanity.
As an advertiser, I want my ads not to appear on such sites de facto. I consider any form of hate promotion or fake news to be hurting the image of my brand just like porn or violence. If I want to advertise on Breitbart that’s one thing but I want that decision to be a conscious choice.
So...how can Google and other ad tech platforms change their ways ? The same way they managed to put porn and violence sites on a de facto blacklist, by recognizing the detrimental effects these sites have and by creating filters that implement action to stop their ads appearing on these websites.
What can you do to help Google blacklist hate sites ?
If you are an advertiser you can make these global ad-tech platforms accountable and ask for their platforms to stop funding hate by default.
As consumers, we have the power to make companies accountable now. Uber has already understood what it means to face the wrath of consumers with the #boycottuber backlash that forcedtheir CEO to give up being on Donald Trump’s advisory board. But more broadly, when we look back at history in a few years, I hope none of these extremelypowerful tech companies want to be remembered for fueling this vicious cycle we have fallen into.
Please forward this if you want to ask Google (and other tech companies) to take decisive action.