Hate Speech and the Google Display Network

What’s Going On

Recently Google has come under fire over allegations that the company is not doing enough to ensure that ads are only being displayed along with appropriate content. Specifically in question is Google’s policy regarding hate speech.

To be eligible to display ads from the Google Display Network, a website needs to comply with a variety of content and technical requirements. Among these requirements, Google states that pages with Google ads may not contain or link to:

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.

Google AdSense Program Policies

Although these policies exist, recently there has been debate over whether Google is doing enough to enforce them. After discovering that their ads were being displayed next to potentially objectionable content, several major advertisers including Verizon, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson have pulled their ads entirely from YouTube and the Google Display Network.

In response, Google has issued a statement asserting that they will be expanding their content review team, as well as developing new AI and machine learning based tools to increase their ability to review material in a timely manner (Expanded Safeguards for Advertisers). Additionally, Google announced plans to release a new escalation process though which an advertiser can report a policy violation and quickly get the content in question reviewed.

What Ad Types This Affects

This discussion only concerns image, text and video ads served through use of the Google Display Network, and does not extend to text or shopping ads displayed on the Google search engine results page.

What You Can Do

MAKA Digital currently uses all available content filtering options to prevent our clients’ ads from being displayed next to content that does not reflect their brand values. This includes restricting ads from showing on sites with certain classifications, for example those with profane language or featuring sexually suggestive content, as well as actively restricting individual sites we have reviewed and determined to be inappropriate on a case by case basis.

Our ability to control where ads are served is limited by the native functionality of the Google AdWords interface.  Since Google currently does not guarantee that their review process will catch objectionable content 100% of the time, we similarly cannot guarantee that your ads will never be displayed on a site that does not reflect your brand values. Where and when an ad is displayed is determined by a complex system of targeting that is specific to individual users, and it is simply impossible to predict all potential combinations and outcomes.

Option 1: Continue to invest in advertising on the Google Display Network, and allow existing and future safeguards to protect your brand. Existing practices and policies are extremely robust, and do a great job of identifying objectionable content. Although a small percentage will inevitably slip through the cracks, this is unlikely to have any negative effect on your brand.

Option 2: Pull spending from the Google Display Network until further notice. This is the only way to guarantee that your ads do not ever show on a site that you may find objectionable. MAKA will continue to monitor changes in Google’s policies and tactics, and will make periodic recommendations based on the potential risk involved with reinstating Google Display Network advertising. If you choose to go this route, MAKA will work with you to identify an action plan of alternative advertising methods to maintain your brand’s share of voice.  

In closing…

MAKA is here for you. We want to encourage a transparent dialogue about how your brand is represented in the digital space. If you have any questions or concerns, we encourage you to reach out to us directly so we can discuss your needs in detail, and craft a comprehensive action plan.