What exactly is going on?
Youtube (owned by Google) came under fire recently for featuring ads next to extremist content. Advertisers from powerful companies such as AT&T and Verizon were not happy when they saw their ads on videos promoting hatred and terrorism such as ISIS videos.
Google is poised to lose millions as advertisers pull their content from Youtube. Still, the controversy shouldn’t be too harmful to a company worth almost $500 billion.
Why did this happen?
Advertising used to be a highly selective process. In mass media outlets such as TV broadcasting, advertisers know precisely where, when, and the duration they are being featured.
The internet is different. The nature of the platform is conducive to automated ads, which run according to algorithms alongside pretty much any type of content. The internet is far less regulated than older forms of media, allowing Youtube to host videos as diverse as makeup tutorials, talk shows, and hate speech.
Advertisers have much less agency when it comes to where their branding will appear. This opens the door for advertising alongside some pretty malicious stuff.
What is Google’s response?
Google, as expected, is downplaying the issue. Google exec Philipp Schindler claimed that the problem is ‘very very very small’, and that the amount of ads featured next to extremist content is minimal.
Aside from these statements, Google is taking a number of steps:
1. Cracking down on hate speech by further enforcing or even changing Youtube’s content guidelines.
2. Removing ads from hate content.
3. Giving advertisers more control over where their marketing appears.
4. Giving advertisers more transparency on where their content is being featured.
Some are disagreeing with the effectiveness of Google’s measures, as well as the actual number of incidents of misplaced advertisements. Outlets like the Washington Post are resisting Google’s downplaying of the controversy.
It is extremely difficult to regulate a vast, individually curated website such as Youtube, and, whether or not you agree, there is a moral argument behind leaving certain points of view uncensored. Yet, capitalism has immense power over regulating content, especially content controlled by corporations such as Google.
Hate speech is a problem the internet has struggled with for ages. It’ll be interesting to see how this episode plays out.