Advertisers Ditch Google Over Extremist YouTube Videos

John Lister's picture

Google has apologized to businesses whose ads appeared next to extremist videos on YouTube. It follows several major brands and the British government dropping Google advertising over the affair.

The Times newspaper reported that videos from extremist groups had appeared beside advertising from many a host of big businesses and government agencies. That not only meant embarrassment but could mean that the advertisers were unwittingly -- if indirectly -- contributing to extremist groups.

Content Classification Confusing

Google's Matt Brittin told a conference that he wanted to "apologize to our partners and advertisers who might have been affected by their ads appearing on controversial content. We take our responsibilities to these industry issues very seriously."

The British government has suspended its advertising on any Google service until the matter is resolved. This includes promotional campaigns to recruit blood donors and military staff. They are joined in that step by Havas, one of Europe's biggest advertising agencies. (Source:

The controversy is somewhat confusing because there are three different issues. One is whether the YouTube video is legal to show at all; another is whether the YouTube video breaches Google's content standards, which covers matters such as: violence, mature content, threatening behavior and content that is deceptive as part of a scam. However, it's the third issue that's causing the problems. That's the category of YouTube videos which are inherently legal and meets Google's content rules, but which is controversial enough that Google decides not to put advertising beside it.

Google Revenues Could Take A Hit

Advertisers say they need to be able to rely on Google's classification for this category so that their message or brand is not associated with unsuitable videos. Google's problem is developing clear enough guidelines for this category - not just for the benefit of advertisers, but also to make sure video creators who want to benefit from ad revenue can make sure their content is suitable.

The controversy is serious enough that one stock analyst has downgraded Google from a 'buy' to a 'hold' recommendation because he believes the advertising boycotts could significantly harm revenue. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Are the advertisers right to boycott Google? Is it practical for Google to vet every video that might carry ads? Should Google go further in blocking extremist material from appearing on the site at all, whether or not it carries ads?

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Dennis Faas's picture

This reminds me of a time when I first started advertising my website to acquire subscribers through an 'offer' portal. While I was led to believe that my ad would appear on a 'free ipod giveway' site, I was later informed that some of the customers that were acquired for me were through a number of porn sites. I was quite upset, to say the least. The agent that handled my account assured me that "in terms of acquiring a customer that is interested in your offer, those who visit a porn site are no different than someone visiting a site for a free ipod". Her argument was plausible but I disagreed and did not continue to advertise with that company.

I hate to say it - but in the same respect, I see this being the same case. Not everyone viewing an extremist video is an extremist, and whether they are interested in your offer (advertisement) and proceed to click on your ad should not really make any difference. On the other hand, if Google gives this as a choice to advertisers (whether or not their ad appears next to controversial content), then they certainly need to stick to those guidelines. Also to be considered is that the person publishing the extremist video on YouTube profits from any clicks from advertisements - this is likely the bigger issue at hand.

ecash's picture

Im tired of a Simplified World..
They are automating things to the point is called, THROW it in with the others..

Lawyers and the DMCA are funny, as they declare ignorance, when their BOT finds something, that has no Cause. It wonders the net, and finds NAMES, and sends Take down notices..No verification needed(LOL) The Site/person on the other END has to deal with it..

All these derver break ins, are funny to me. As in the old days we always had a person monitoring the servers.

bern's picture

In the UK and Europe there are strict controls on advertising in TV. It is not just terrorist and other extremist content, Government (national and local) along with major companies are castigated for the promotion through advertising of activities such as the anorexia, racism, sexism and a plethora of other dubious content. Adverts are seen by the public as specifically condoning and supporting the content they are shown along side.

There are other cultural differences, the UK is far less troubled by non sexual nudity than the US, but much stricter on violence and its portrayal. Brest feeding is considered normal, healthy and should be promoted. There was outrage when Facebook censored even decorous photographs women brest feeding their own babies.

Social media will have to learn that their content policies and advertising controls will have to become culturally sensitive and country specific. One size does not fit all and individual countries do not want to be either necessarily exposed to US norms or limited by them.

There was an interesting article in the Times the other day about new technology. Initially it flourishes in an uncontrolled manner and the as the effects become evident, then controls are introduced. The automobile was a classic example. Initially anyone could just get in a car and drive, then as numbers grew it was taxed and you had to buy a license. In 1934 (in the UK) a driving test was introduced to reduce the growing number of accidents and deaths.

Video content providers (Google, Amazon, and Social Media etc) will gradually have to meet country by country broadcasting standards or face large fines and blocking (even the US is having problems about 'Fake' news and Russian interference). Companies such as Uber will have to accept that they have to meet local employment legislation and local controls to protect both the travelling public, other road users and pedestrians (yes there are far more of those in the UK, it is also considered a healthy activity). Public safety has a cost, if you live in middle England why would you have confidence in the controls of a gung-ho company in California, who's only aim is to make big bucks from an enormous investment, that is struggling to be economic.

scowei's picture

...and the customer wants to choose their ad placement, just like they use to do with newspapers and TV shows. Google may take a revenue hit initially, but they'll make it up over time.

Eventually, sites that want to be ad supported will alter their content. Meaning, if they are in it for the money, they'll avoid stuff (radical, etc.) that doesn't provide a high CPC. Pushing an agenda will become more of an (unpaid) hobby, rather than a revenue source.

There are only so many companies that want to attract the types of people who watch radical content, so that content will become more niche.

And it's happening all over, not just in England. See all the companies that have been the target of social media shaming for their ad placements in America and how they have taken steps to remove themselves from the likes of Breitbart, etc. It's already affecting the revenue of these types of sites, and when Amazon (currently being pressured) eventually updates their ad placement guidelines, revenue will drop further.

An interesting point was made after this announcement by the Stratechery blog: what the heck are ad agencies getting 15% for? Aside from a little creativity, they are only placing ads on two networks: Google or Facebook. And then obviously not monitoring those ads in any way to make sure their clients are happy. If ad agencies had jumped on this with their own technology, they could have remained relevant. As it is, they are likely to fade away, just like travel agents before them.

sirpaultoo's picture

I'd put my money on advertisers who went with a less expensive advertising rate versus choice of placement, and then griping when they found out what that actually meant.