Boycotting on YouTube

By Nada Khan

So imagine you are perusing through an alt-right youtube channel, maybe for curiosity’s sake, and all of a sudden in the midst of an angry “anti-SJW” rant, you are interrupted with an ad. Not an ad for the National Rifle Association or Breitbart but an ad for baby powder from Johnson & Johnson. These instances of brands unintentionally becoming associated with extremist content has become a major issue for Google. Left, right and center companies are boycotting the video platform and taking millions of advertising dollars with them.

It’s becoming evident that more and more power-house brands are doubting Google’s ability to prevent aligning ads with the appropriate video content. Walmart, PepsiCo and Starbucks have all suspended their advertising on Youtube after the Wall Street Journal found Google’s automated programs placed their brands on five videos representing racist speech. Since the initial boycott, AT&T, Verizon, Volkswagen and several other companies pulled ads earlier last week.

Even after Google apologized for negatively representing brands and ensured they are following the necessary steps to properly display organisations, the defects have continued.

Google’s technological prowess has often painted the company as an all knowing Deity of the world wide web. For many, it is their gateway into the internet of things, and billions trust the gatekeeper to provide credible and relevant information. After google.com, Youtube is the largest and most used search engine. This means that even the advanced algorithms created by Google engineers cannot align brands with associated content. About 400 hours of video content is uploaded by the minute onto the platform, hence it would be virtually impossible to provide the manpower to filter through the superabundance of video.

Though the information on youtube is created by users, it is still a media company. We see Google and it’s subsidiaries as technological organisations, however a substantial amount of their revenue comes from ad spend. Therefore, just as media agencies are expected to thoroughly curate placements of advertisements to maintain brand integrity, Google should be held to the same expectations.

In attempt to put out the fire the boycott has ignited, Google has pledged to recruit more employees to filter through video content and develop further advanced software programs. These programs will enhance the computer’s ability to identify which content would be inappropriate for advertising.

The search engine conglomerate has reiterated its prior promises, claiming that the company has been focusing all its energy into improving the automated algorithms for branding and media. Part of the initiative means that Google will be tightening up their policies on censorship and working harder to block or restrict offensive videos from being uploaded onto the platform. This has stirred some aggression in the YouTuber community. Creators are criticising the site after the discovery of the policies of its “restricted mode.” This mode attempts to help schools, parents and libraries control content that is “inappropriate”, which includes a large amount of LGBTQ video content. The algorithms have not been able to grasp the nuance of content creation, and furthermore cannot identify the spectrum of PG to R Rated video.

Youtube is now at war between its users and it’s advertisers, attempting to find a middle ground, but being pressured to succumb to the advertisers demands. Some outraged brands have clearly voiced their dissent against Youtube’s advertising mishaps. Wal-Mart stated that “the content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our company values.” Furthermore, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo and several other companies have stated that they will boycott ads that Google paces on more than two-million other third-party websites.

Unfortunately, if Google does not mend relationships with these advertisers it could cause hundred of millions dollars in losses . However, the majority of analysts claim that the boycott will insignificantly impact Google’s revenue and it’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.

According to Alphabet Inc’s 2016 Annual Report, Youtube’s ads only contribute to small financial piece of Alphabet Inc’s net income, whose profit was $73.5 billion after dividends. Youtube only accounted for 8% of the total, based on the research firm eMarketer.

RBC Capital analyst Mark Mahaney predicts that the boycott will cut Alphabet revenue by an estimated 2 percent. On the other hand, Alphabets stock price has dropped about 4 percent since the boycott began, leaving the future of Google advertising in the balance.

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