Google is violating its own policy on hate speech by providing ads to Breitbart

Breitbart, the most well known news site for “alt-right” sexism, racism, hate speech, and white nationalism, serves multiple ads on each page from Google’s ad network (Adsense / Adwords / Doubleclick).

Breitbart is actively violating Google’s content policies, and has already been banned by other service providers for policy violations, but not by Google. Google advertisers need to be able to trust Google’s content policy. For example, they need to know that they won’t face a consumer backlash from inadvertently supporting Steve Bannon’s website.

Nearly one thousand companies, including many large corporations like Kelloggs and Allstate and smaller ones like Welch’s, Warby Parker, and AARP, have recently announced that they have blocked their ads from appearing on Breitbart in their AdWords / Doubleclick accounts (here’s how) because the content on the site is unacceptable. Thousands of other companies have also removed their ads from Breitbart without public comment: just a few weeks ago ads from companies like Nike, Hyundai, Adidas, and Urban Outfitters appeared frequently and now they have disappeared.

-> How to notify an advertiser if you see them on Breitbart.

Google should also end its relationship with Breitbart, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because Breitbart violates Google’s current publishing policy.

Google’s Policy

Google’s publisher policies for AdSense do not allow content that includes:

Hate speech (including content that incites hatred or promotes violence against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity), harassment, bullying, or similar content that advocates harm against an individual or group.

Breitbart articles and pages routinely violate virtually everything in this list.

Appnexus, a multi-billion dollar digital ad services company, recently stopped doing business with Breitbart for ongoing “hate speech violation.”

As Bloomberg reported:

The digital ad firm decided the publication had breached a policy against content that incites violence, said AppNexus spokesman Joshua Zeitz.

Policy Violations in Article Content

Religious hate and intolerance is widespread in Breitbart articles.

“Violence is not the extreme in Islam any more: it’s the norm,” says a typical Breitbart article about Muslims in the US and abroad.

Bullying, intimidation, and explicit anti-women articles are also common.

Here are a few Breitbart headlines on both topics:

Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy
Muslims Are ‘Different’, ‘Won’t Integrate’, ‘See World Differently’ Says Ex-Equality Chief
Sorry, Girls! But The Smartest People In The World Are All Men
How To Make Women Happy: Uninvent The Washing Machine And The Pill
Muslim Profiling Isn’t Illegal, Unconstitutional, or Un-American

And there are many, many, many, many, more.

Looking at the wording of Google’s content policy, the headline ‘Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy’ is clearly and intentionally designed to harass and bully women. There’s no other reasonable interpretation and the content of the article makes that intent clear. That constitutes a policy violation.

There are at least a dozen articles that specifically target women as a group, demonstrating ongoing harassment and incitement to harassment.

The fairly ironic example below shows how hundreds of Google advertising partners are having their brands appear next to content that they would almost certainly find unacceptable:

Probably not the message Arizona Summit Law School had in mind.

Policy Violations in Comment Display

Scrolling further down, the Disqus-powered comments on Breitbart articles appear to be unmoderated and are displayed along side Google ads. Threats, harassment, explicit hate group content, white supremacist content, and extreme sexism are all very common in Breitbart comments.

Even if the content is user generated, I expect that most brands don’t want or expect their ads to appear with content like this:

A Google AdWords ad appearing on the same page and next to Breitbart comments.

Some may insist that Breitbart is not responsible for comment contents or that moderating comments is not always desirable, but even if we accept those positions, Breitbart bears curatorial responsibility for neither hiding specific comments that violate Google’s policy when they appear alongside Google advertising partners nor placing comment threads at a separate URL that does not include Google advertisements. By failing to do either, Breitbart, again, violates Google’s policy.

Furthermore, if a website is actively cultivating a discussion forum for racism, sexism, and Islamophobia, does that website bear any responsibility for the user-generated content that results? I think most people believe that it does but whether there is moral responsibility or not, this clearly seems like the kind of activity that the ‘incites’ guideline in Google’s policy was written to disallow.

In more concrete terms, it seems obvious that this mattress company and the hundreds of other businesses that appear in this ad slot most likely don’t want or intend for their brand to repeatedly appear adjacent to such hateful content:

Breitbart comments with Google Ad (and the comments get a lot worse than these, unfortunately)

Being a Trustworthy Partner to Advertisers

Would removing Breitbart from the Google ad network violate Breitbart’s right to free speech? Of course not. Breitbart can and will continue to publish whatever they want and will continue to appear in Google search results. Like any business, Google, and more importantly, Google’s advertising customers, have no obligation to financially support a news site whose content they and many of their customers find morally unacceptable and incompatible with their brand.

Furthermore, Breitbart can (and already does) work directly with advertisers who actually want to appear on Breitbart.com. That’s freedom of association.

And remember, Google doesn’t have to change or make an exception to their policies in order to cease doing business with Breitbart because Breitbart is already violating Google’s own existing publisher policy.

If Google decides to continue their business relationship and financial support of Breitbart, the Google content policy should be changed to allow this type of content and there should, at a minimum, be a warning and a clear opt-in for advertisers, the vast majority of which do not want their brand appearing on white nationalist websites.

And don’t worry, Google, I already designed the UX for you — it’s just a simple addition to your ad campaign page:

Note to developers: checkbox should be unchecked by default

Does that checkbox look a little ridiculous? Well, that’s exactly how this all feels to advertisers who trusted Google to place their ads and are now shocked to discover that their brand has been appearing on Breitbart and that their ad dollars are funding its operations.

Google should do the right thing for their customers and their company and follow its own content policy.

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