Companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and Toyota are pulling advertising from Google and You Tube, after fears their ads appeared next to racist or extreme content.
An advertising boycott that began with companies in the UK early this year has spread to the EU and the US, with companies like Verizon and AT&T pulling ads on Google platforms over concerns of their ads appearing next to inappropriate content. Companies began removing their advertising upon finding their ads appearing on pages, videos, and channels run by groups such as al-Qaeda recruiters and the Animal Liberation Front. Since You Tube ad revenue is paid out to channels based on views, the companies have expressed concerns that their advertising dollars were helping to fund extremist groups via their You Tube channels.
Earlier this month, You Tube responded to advertiser complaints with a statement on their Creator Blog, explaining the actions You Tube intended to take to assuage the concerns of advertisers. Given the number of videos uploaded each day, You Tube necessarily relies on automated processes to screen videos for objectionable content. This means there isn’t likely to be a quick fix to the problem of advertisers finding their ads on channels they object to. A growing number of advertisers are reluctant to spend their advertising budgets with You Tube in the interim, pausing or canceling their ad buys altogether.
That skepticism isn’t necessarily unwarranted, either. Reporters for the Times in the UK and the Wall Street Journal spent time last week searching for ads on channels and videos with racist or extremist content, capturing images to demonstrate the problem. Click on the images to see them in better detail.
— James Dean (@JamesDeanTimes) March 22, 2017
Google showed many ads on videos with racial slurs in the title or description. Its software automatically screens for similar stuff. /7 pic.twitter.com/x1envFOPsH
— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) March 24, 2017
Caught in the center of the advertising controversy are the content creators and channel owners who make significant revenue from You Tube ads. On Wednesday, a You Tube Community Manager posted an explanation about the adjustments the company is making to retain advertisers. ‘If you’re seeing fluctuations in your revenue over the next few weeks, it may be because we’re fine tuning our ads systems to address these concerns.’ she stated. Creators have complained that You Tube has not been transparent about how videos and channels are classified for the purposes of being labeled ‘advertiser-friendly’, resulting in a serious drop in their channels’ ad revenues during the appeals process. Following on the heels of the discovery that entire channels were rendered invisible in You Tube’s restricted mode, the site’s creators community is watching developments closely.
It isn’t just revenue that has them worried, either. Creators are claiming that shows that talk about controversial news stories and events are treated as though they are creating the controversial content themselves, rather than merely reporting on it. Philip DeFranco detailed his own struggles with monetization on his daily show Thursday, saying: ‘I wanted to double-check if I had any more videos demonetized. There are so many. I went through and I have three pages of demonetized videos, or videos I have to submit appeals on where it’s often where I’m just talking about hate groups and the disgusting things they do and the outcry against them.’ Phil and other creators like him are concerned that important events they feel compelled to cover as news – such as terror attacks or the actions of hate groups – would result in those news videos losing the opportunity to earn ad revenue. This, in turn, would make hard news and opinion shows far less profitable for creators to make, and effectively reduce the opportunity for new media voices to establish and maintain journalism careers on the platform.
As You Tube and Google struggle with trying to retain or win back their advertisers, the content creators that help Google earn billions in ad revenue each year struggle with You Tube’s rule changes and lack of transparency. With hundreds of thousands of hours of video uploaded each day, the company must necessarily automate some parts of the screening process for advertising. But the very reason that the company exists as a platform for revenue lies with the creators, who are being squeezed in the process. For now, both You Tube and its content creators are in for a lot of turbulence until the company can find a way to win back its lost advertisers.