Brands still advertise on extremist sites, at least 450 spotted… despite Charlottesville

Aug 23, 2017 · 3 min read

Since last November a lot of brands decided to remove their ads from the controversial Breitbart News site. According to the activist group Sleeping Giants, at least 2,400 brands removed their ads. Considering that the total number of visitors on other extremist sites represents around 35 million visits* per month which is half of the number of visits received by Breitbart News, why should one only focus on Breitbart news when there are many other sites that are even worse?

At Storyzy, in the last 4 weeks, we searched for ads that were on fake news sites, in order to show that brands’ display ads were on these sites. Then, we contacted brands to present our solution that prevents their ads from being displayed on these sites. By fake news we mean false information, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, propaganda… and a lot of extremist sites also match with one or more of these categories. The extremist sites that were identified by Storyzy’s A.I technology (10% far left, 90% far right) are explicitly spreading values like hate, racism, white supremacy, homophobia and defiance to mainstream media. On these sites you can find this kind of quotes:

“By Monday enough evidence had surfaced for us to believe that the Charlottesville riots had been orchestrated by leftist politicians using George Soros’ money.”

“That is why the globalist funded and owned mainstream media was prepared with a scripted and unrelenting barrage of criticism aimed at President Trump.”

“And will mankind look back and realise how blindly stupid it has been to accept gayness as normal?”

At least 450 brands

Since the Charlottesville events and their consequences in the US, we tried to see if extremist sites were affected by a sort of boycott by advertisers. It looks as if nothing happened: ads are still displayed on these sites. Before and after Charlottesville, ads continue to appear. During the period between July 24th and August 18th we found 41 extremist sites (among the 750 fake news sites automatically detected by Storyzy) on which 450 brands advertised. We took a screenshot of each of them, gathering 450 screenshots as evidence of the phenomenon.

To capture them, we are using a simple Mozilla add-on called ‘Grab them all’ that automatically takes screenshots from a list of webpages you submit. Following this, we manually select the screenshots of the pages that contain ads. The capturing takes place in 6 different countries. Anyone landing on these pages can immediately see programmatic ads appear. Of course the retargeting system also works. If you have visited an online shoe shop prior to visiting an extremist site, you’ll probably see an ad of this online shop.

Some brands argue that if only retargeted ads are being displayed on extremist sites, they are fine. This means they are also fine with the fact that they fund these sites. Often, they do not know that fraud could exist on retargeted ads. It’s even easier for a site to use a robot to visit e-commerce pages and then get high CPM for retargeting campaigns.

Among the 450 brands we found on extremist sites, some are big brands and some are more modest. They come from different sectors: banking, e-commerce, high-tech, automobile, health, travel. Some of them started to blacklist fake news and extremist sites.



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Storyzy provides to advertisers and media agencies a brand safety solution to avoid fake news context.

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