It’s About Free Speech, Says Tech CEO Cashing In On Breitbart Ads

Sorry we’re making so much money off hate speech!

Taboola CEO Adam Singolda is very much hoping you won’t notice his company’s role in the growing “alt-right” movement.

The role is a fairly pivotal one: Taboola is an advertising platform directly funding white supremacist propaganda site, Breitbart.

By now, you know what Breitbart does: It publishes racist and incendiary speech against Muslims, Jews, LGBT people, immigrants, women and whoever else they can get its angry little hands on.

But do you know what Taboola does? Taboola runs ads on the site, makes money off the clickthroughs and funnels the profits to Breitbart.

But Taboola’s CEO doesn’t want you to know how grotesquely intertwined his business is with Breitbart’s — and just how little he’s doing to change it.

Why would he? Taboola has found a lucrative publishing partner in Breitbart to help fuel its nearly $1 billion valuation.

So as he lines his pockets with that sweet hate speech money, Singolda falls back on that old patriotic standby favored by morally bankrupt tech executives everywhere: The First Amendment.

This is a tricky topic as it falls under the First Amendment, our fundamental right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press and the simple truth that sometimes what seems appropriate to some, seems very wrong to others…
We have the responsibility to respect and allow them to be shared — as long as such opinions are not fake, deceptive and don’t violate the law. Even if those opinions are very different from my own or from anyone’s at Taboola.

What Taboola’s CEO fails to mention in this cynical, self-serving shout out to the U.S. Constitution, is that his company is directly propping up the budding American Nazi movement — at the expense of all of us.

The Business Model Explained: How Taboola Props Up Breitbart

You’ve probably seen Taboola ads before. They’re these tacky links you find at the end of news articles and blogs:

(You can find a full explanation of how advertising money flows to publishers like Breitbart in this excellent Bloomberg investigation on click fraud.)

These blogs and news sites are part of Taboola’s publisher network.

The ads are part of Taboola’s advertiser network.

Advertisers place bids (usually automatically) to have their ads appear across the publisher network, including Breitbart. The more traffic a website gets, the more competitive the bidding becomes, and the more advertisers pay to get in front of the publisher’s audience.

So every time you, the visitor, click on one of these ads, Taboola collects money from the advertiser and gives part of it to the publisher.

When you scale this operation across thousands of websites and thousands of advertisers, it’s a lucrative source of revenue for both Taboola and its publishers. Enough to prop up an expanding alt right media operation, even.

It’s the perfect combination of easy money, opaque technology and no oversight.

So it’s no wonder that the day after Digiday singled out his company as “the underbelly of the Internet” in a fake news exposé, Singolda still couldn’t be bothered to come clean.

Sure, there are enough words here to make it look like the company is serious about combating fake news and hate speech:

Breitbart is a publisher, so it doesn’t have anything to worry about. (Read the full statement here)

But there are two things you need to know about this heavily padded list of standards:

  1. They’re targeted only at advertisers.
  2. Breitbart is not an advertiser.
Breitbart is a publisher — which means not a single one of the above standards apply.

In fact, Digiday notes that Taboola “doesn’t publicize” its publishers guidelines. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Let’s tell them it’s really about “freedom of speech”

Tech CEOs like Singolda depend on smarmy patriotism to help them evade responsibility for their shady business practices:

“The open web allows many opinions to exist, and we don’t have to like certain opinions more just because they are searchable, shareable or recommendable. But I respect and honor the First Amendment rights, because they make us stronger even if — or especially because — we may disagree with content those rights protect.”

Do not be fooled. This is not a freedom of speech issue.

The First Amendment only bans the government from restricting free speech. It’s entirely up to the CEO to place limits on what he does and does not support.

Taboola is not a medium of self-expression. The company is not grappling with some dramatic constitutional dilemma of the century here.

Taboola is passionate about “content discovery”

It’s a privately owned business — a high tech ad salesman, if you will — whose entire business model revolves around littering your online reading experience with crap like this fake Malia Obama ad.

And it is making enough money doing this with Breitbart to throw everything, including you and your country, under the bus.

Other ad companies have already stepped back, citing their terms & conditions and of course, basic integrity.

AppNexus, the 2nd largest ad exchange company, ended their business relationship with Breitbart after concluding that it violates their standards of decency.

“We did a human audit of Breitbart and determined there were enough articles and headlines that cross that line, using either coded or overt language,” said AppNexus spokesman Joshua Zeitz.

“We determined that Breitbart was out of compliance with our hate speech rules,” Zeitz told the Guardian. “Hate speech being one of several prohibited categories.”

Programmatic ad companies TubeMogul and Rocket Fuel have followed suit, due to “concerns over offensive language and hate speech.”

If Adam Singolda truly believes that kicking Breitbart to the curb is a constitutional matter, he is merely incorrect. What is more likely however, is that in Taboola’s world, money is money.

Every hate movement needs its morally bankrupt collaborators. The Nazis had IBM and Breitbart‘s so-called “alt-right” (still also Nazis) has Taboola.

But what’s the hurry? In these terrifying times, Adam Singolda is doing just fine.


Want to talk to Taboola’s CEO, Adam Singolda? Email him your thoughts: Adam@taboola.com or tweet him: https://twitter.com/adamsingolda
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