AT&T, Verizon Suspend YouTube Ads Over Placement Next to Hate-Speech Videos

Telecom giants followed in footsteps of several British companies

AT&T and Verizon have become the latest major advertisers to pull their ads from Google’s YouTube in the wake of an investigation by the Times of London that found content from mainstream brands like McDonalds, Disney and L’Oreal was appearing as mid-roll or banner ads on extremist videos.

The Times story from March 17 highlighted a L’Oreal ad for the Prince’s Trust featuring Helen Mirren that appeared during a video sermon from a preacher who talked about homosexuals burning. The same preacher had also celebrated last year’s Orlando massacre by saying “there’s 50 less pedophiles in the world.” Government-funded ads for the BBC, for example, also showed up on the channel of white nationalist (and Donald Trump supporter) David Duke.

The brands mentioned aren’t directly advertising with these types of messengers, but their ads are placed on their channels through programmatic advertising, which is an auction-type format that purports to enable companies to efficiently place advertisements based on the browsing histories of likely target customers. But as a result of the investigation, British advertisers including the Royal Bank of Scotland, The Guardian, Lloyds and Marks & Spencer have pulled their ads from YouTube.

That movement has now made its way to the U.S., as AT&T and Verizon have suspended their ads until a system is in place to make sure it won’t happen.

“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” AT&T said in a statement. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”

“We take careful measure to ensure our brand is not impacted negatively,” Verizon added. “Once we were notified that our ads were appearing on non-sanctioned websites, we took immediate action to suspend this type of ad placement and launched an investigation. We are working with all of our digital advertising partners to understand the weak links so we can prevent this from happening in the future.”

In a Tuesday blog post, Google Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler apologized for companies’ ads appearing adjacent to repellent videos and outlined some of the company’s moves to mitigate that.

“We know advertisers don’t want their ads next to content that doesn’t align with their values,” Schindler wrote in the post. “So starting today, we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content. This includes removing ads more effectively from content that is attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender or similar categories. This change will enable us to take action, where appropriate, on a larger set of ads and sites.”