Google bans far-right site ZeroHedge from ad platform for policy violations

Brief:

  • Google banned website ZeroHedge from its advertising platform for policy violations in its comments section of stories about recent Black Lives Matter protests. ZeroHedge is “a far-right website that often traffics in conspiracy theories,” NBC News reported.
  • After initially claiming it banned The Federalist, also described as a “far-right” website, Google backtracked to say the site hadn’t been demonetized, NBC News reported. The Federalist was given three days to remove the violations before a ban took effect, and after removing the violations, Google said it would take no further action, according to NBC News.
  • Google’s ban came after NBC News asked the company about a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a U.K. nonprofit that claimed 10 U.S.-based websites published what it described as racist articles about protests in response to the killing of George Floyd while in police custody.

Insight:

Google’s actions against niche publishers ZeroHedge and The Federalist are part of a broader effort to make its ad network safe for marketers that don’t want ads for their brands associated with content that can be seen as objectionable. Ads for Jeep, Nissan, HeyDay, University of Cincinnati and Harvard University appeared next to content deemed objectionable by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, per examples that the group provided to Mobile Marketer.

Google’s actions are likely to invite criticism that they were politically motivated, given NBC News’ report that says ZeroHedge and The Federalist “have become well known in recent years for publishing far-right articles on a variety of subjects.” Any backlash may amplify calls from the right to break up Google, which has become a target for antitrust scrutiny in several regions worldwide, including the U.S. The company not only has a near-monopoly on internet search, but also distributes billions of dollars in yearly media spending through its digital platforms that include Google Ad Manager for publishers that sell ads and its Google Ads service for marketers that buy ad space. 

Google’s removal of ZeroHedge from its ad monetization platform again highlights how Silicon Valley companies differ in their policies to either moderate or demonetize objectionable content. Google’s action against ZeroHedge came a week after Twitter reversed its ban on ZeroHedge’s account. Twitter had removed ZeroHedge’s account for violating one of its policies, and later admitted the ban was a mistake, Bloomberg News reported, describing ZeroHedge as a “libertarian financial website.” Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter also have had differing policies on how to moderate controversial posts by President Donald Trump.

Google has faced criticism in the past for monetizing objectionable content, particularly on its YouTube video-sharing platform. Concern over brand safety has led to temporary advertiser boycotts of YouTube on several occasions, and the platform has taken steps to remove objectionable content to address those complaints. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of CPG giant Procter & Gamble, last year criticized the digital media industry for fraud, privacy breaches, lack of transparency and extensive violent and harmful content placed next to ads, calling for a reinvention of the landscape. 

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