Google Adsense allows ads on extremist sites

Google is funding extremist and fake news sites through Adsense, their platform dedicated to publishers, despite its own policies because it only removes ads at the page level. Analyzing the 700+ fake news sites* of its automated blacklist, Storyzy found that 90% of those using programmatic ads are affiliated to Google Adsense.

One of the main reasons of the presence of ads on extremist and fake news sites is the fact that Google removes ads only from pages and not from a whole site. In a post from May 2017, the platform announced that from now on and by default, it will remove ads from pages that violate its policies. It is explicit that is at the page level and not at the site level. Scott Spencer, Google’s sustainable ads director explained:

“As we roll out page-level policy action as the new default for content violations, we’ll be able to stop showing ads on select pages, while leaving ads up on the rest of a site’s good content.”

In concrete terms, a given brand’s ads may have been removed from pages with racist contents on an extremist site but still appear on its weather forecast section, meaning that Google provides revenues to such sites. So it is not a surprise that, in September 2017, 90% of fake news sites which are monetizing their audience through programmatic advertising are using Google Adsense (according to Storyzy statistics). Their audience represents 120M monthly visits.

Since July 2017, Storyzy spotted on these fake news sites more than 600 different brand’s ads including big names such as McDonald’s, Walmart, AT&T, Adobe, Visa, Nespresso, American Express, Verizon, Hertz, Volkswagen, Goodyear, Microsoft, Dell, Toyota…

Google Adsense content policies are clear

Google Adsense policies about ‘dangerous or derogatory content’ are clear and they are applicable at the page level:

“We believe strongly in freedom of expression, but we don’t permit monetization of dangerous or derogatory content.

However, when a brand’s ads appear on specific ‘safe’ pages of an extremist site because they do not violate Google policies, the brand is still funding both the extremist site and Google.

Is Google wrong with its rules at page level?

It is public that Breitbart news has been blacklisted by nearly 2,600 brands that had removed all their campaigns from the site since November 2016(the whole site of Breitbart and not only questionable pages). Not all content on this site is extremist, racist or false information. They removed their ads despite the fact they could appear close to articles from respectable agencies like Associated Press. For example, in the picture below you can see an AP article on Breitbart that has been blacklisted by these brands.

So what is the best approach for a brand? Removing the entire site or just some pages? Nearly 2,600 brands chose the first option. Probably because they do not want to fund Breitbart. So if you are a brand and you do not want to give revenues to extremist and fake news sites the only solution is to blacklist the whole site and not only its pages that violate Google Adsense policies.

To be fair, Google says it can sometimes remove an entire site. However we have noticed that 90% of extremist and fake news sites are running programmatic display ads, including Breitbart, which are still affiliated to Adsense.

Conclusion: 
If brands want to control their ad placement, they cannot only rely on Google. They should additionally use a real-time dynamic blacklist of sites where they do not want their ads to appear. Why a dynamic and automated blacklist? A real-time update is needed because sites are emerging, changing their domain name, disappearing and coming live again. For example, thanks to our algorithms, we detected this week that the neo-nazi site “The Daily Stormer” has become live again under another domain name (https://dstormer6em3i4km.onion.link/). In addition an automated blacklist is run by algorithms that are politically neutral. It’s true that a few other brand safety companies may have a solution but nevertheless their blacklists seem to be manually compiled while we use an automated and dynamic blacklist. This is what we are doing at Storyzy to help advertisers run safe campaigns.

*The Storyzy fake news sites dynamic blacklist includes 9 categories : false information, extreme right, extreme left, conspiracy, propaganda, hate, pseudoscience, satire and clickbait.