German Companies Boycott Breitbart, Not Ayatollahs

by Stefan Frank
May 17, 2017

Reports in January noted how Gerald Hensel, a high-ranking employee of Scholz & Friends, one of the two largest advertising agencies in Germany, used his professional position to launch a private war against the freedom of expression, under the slogan “No Money for the Right Wing!”

“Right wing” websites — those which have criticized the German government for its policies on, for example, Muslim mass-migration, the euro rescue or climate policy — should, according to Hensel, be cut off from advertising revenues. If they have no more money, so the thinking goes, it will be more difficult for them to stay in business; perhaps they would give up, and opinions differing from the mainstream would not be put into circulation.

Hensel explained his strategy on his private blog, which featured a red Soviet star: Large conglomerates that want to advertise on the Internet usually do not directly contact specific websites. Instead, computer programs recognize who is interested in a particular product or service, based on the user’s search behavior. The advertisement is personalized: a car maker will only approach users who are looking for cars. The advertisement, however, will not only appear on car websites, but on all sites the user visits in the following hours or days.

Hensel urged all of those who are disturbed by diverse views on the internet to exert pressure on companies, by branding particular websites as “right wing.” This pressure alone, according to his calculation, would ensure that the company would block the website in question.

His strategy succeeded: Within a few days, the website “Achse des Guten” (Axis of the Good) — one of the most popular German political blogs, which daily exposes the insanity of German politicians and journalists from a common-sense point of view — lost its entire advertising business. Advertising agencies simply cut off the website from their ads.

Those who are leading this war against the freedom of expression often claim innocence: the standard argument is that a company must be able to choose where it wants to place its advertisements, and that this choice has nothing to do with censorship.

The censorship, in fact, takes place elsewhere: where the thought police put pressure on companies to block certain websites. The threat — implicit or explicit — is that if you do not do what we say, we will tell the public that you are advertising with the “right wing,” and you know what that would mean for your business.

An internet petition aimed at forcing Amazon to boycott Breitbart News, shows how these activists view freedom of expression:

“Breitbart’s advertisers are dropping like flies. … People power has already forced BMW, T-Mobile and Kellogg’s and hundreds of other corporations to drop Breitbart — and now we are going to force Amazon to follow suit. Amazon is receiving loads of pressure already, and if we add our voices from across the planet together now, we can make sure Amazon cannot ignore us anymore.”

Activists such as these are not consumers who appeal to a company to meet legitimate ethical demands; rather, they act like a mafia against a restaurant owner who refuses to pay protection money. They occupy the tables with aggressive behavior and scare away the guests — until the owner capitulates, because the economic damage is too great and out of fear of penalties still to come.

Questions to German Boycotters

Gatestone Institute asked some of the large German companies boycotting Breitbart what had caused them to do so: Are there internal guidelines? Are other websites or newspapers boycotted? The answers came quickly and were, in most instances, clearly prefabricated. Inquiries proved fruitless.

AXA, for example, a multinational insurance company based in France, wrote: “AXA Deutschland avoids sites with content that does not fit our brand. The website you mention is part of this.”

When Gatestone asked about the criteria, and, with Breitbart, what was the decisive factor for the decision, the answer was: “Please understand that we do not disclose strategies and details of our advertising activities.”

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