The Parkland, Florida shootings have turned out to be the tipping point that has driven corporations to develop a social conscience. Out of fear of becoming victims of consumer boycotts by citizens outraged by brands associated with the NRA and other socially reprehensible points of view, companies are severing their ties to the NRA.
Ending their association with some other offensive organizations turns out to be not quite so easy, however. According to a report by CNN, companies trying to audit where their advertising was appearing on YouTube were horrified to discover that their ads were running on channels featuring content from the noxious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars crew.
CNN reports that it found ads from companies such as Nike, Acer, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Network, the Mormon Church, Moen, Expedia, Alibaba, HomeAway, and Mozilla on InfoWars YouTube channels. Many of the companies say that they were unaware that the ads had been placed on right-wing conspiracy theory video channels, a particularly sensitive subject as Jones is promulgating the theory that the activist students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are actors paid by leftists like George Soros to spread lies.
That last action motivated YouTube to remove a video making the accusations from the InfoWars channel and begin to remove ads from offended brands from their feed.
Jones, who has claimed that the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut was a hoax, is one of President Trump’s favorite alt-right supporters, but his fictional accounts of current events are so outlandishly and offensively created out of thin air that they border on self-parody.
Many of the companies who were surprised and disturbed to find their advertising associated with such offensive content said that they had opted into a “sensitive subject exclusion” filter to have control over where their ads were placed and were now pressuring YouTube, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, to find out why the filter had not protected them in this instance.
“We have a filter and brand safety assurances from Google our content would never run around offensive content,” a Paramount Network spokesperson said, adding that the company is trying to find out what “went wrong.”
A Nike spokesperson declared that they were “disturbed to learn that we appeared on” the Alex Jones channel, and an Acer spokesperson complained that “existing filters should have prevented this,” and that they were looking into additional ways to ensure that their ads would not appear on “divisive channels in the future.”
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told CNN late last year that the company would do everything to reassure advertisers “that their ads are running alongside content that reflects their brand’s values,” but remained committed to being an open platform.
“We uphold free expression according to our Community Guidelines, even when there are views we don’t agree with,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “When videos are flagged to us that violate our guidelines, we immediately remove them. We do not allow ads to run on videos that deal with sensitive and tragic events.”
With their filtering system obviously not working as it intended, YouTube has a lot to answer for to its advertising clients. Jones has claimed that YouTube intends to remove his channel and delete all of his videos, a claim that YouTube denies, but one that Jones used to promote a new YouTube channel featuring all of the videos he claims that YouTube is censoring.
That last oxymoron, a channel on YouTube featuring videos that YouTube won’t allow, gives you an idea of Jones’ assessment of the intelligence of the average viewer of his channels. While he is laughing at the audience who believe his outrageous and offensive fables masquerading as news, collecting their money in the process, we can thank the Parkland students for awakening the public, and the brands who covet their business, to the way heinous exploiters of tragedy profit from their malevolence.