YouTube Still Lets Advertisers Run Campaigns on Hateful, Violative Videos, Despite Blocking Techniques

Google-owned video streaming platform YouTube has techniques in place that block ads on videos that contain hate speech and White nationalist terms and slogans. However, an investigation from The Markup has found out that YouTube’s techniques are riddled with loopholes that are easy to bypass, in case an advertiser is dedicated towards finding hate-filled content to advertise on it. In their investigation, the fold at The Markup created a list of 86 hate-related terms with help from experts. Now, Google uses a blockist to stop advertisers from building YouTube ad campaigns around hateful content. However, The Markup report says that less than a third of the 86 words on their list were blocked when the investigation was going on.

Google Ads showed The Markup millions of YouTube videos for advertisers who are purchasing ads related to the terms “White Power,” and Fascist slogan “blood and soil,” and the far-right call to violence “racial holy war.” The platform also suggested videos for campaigns with terms like “great replacement.” YouTube also shows Wikipedia boxes on videos about “the great replacement,” with the disclaimer that it’s a “white nationalist far-right conspiracy theory.” The report said that “hundreds of milions of YouTube videos” were suggested for placements related to the hate terms listed by The Markup, and they all contained overt racism and bigotry. Multiple videos of re-posted content from the neo-Nazi podcast The Daily Shoah also surfaced. YouTube banned The Daily Shoah channel in 2019 for hate speech only.

While the top suggested videos related to these hate terms were news videos and some anti-hate content, but dozens of videos from channels that researchers labeled as “espousing hate or white nationalist views” were also there.

The Markup reached out to Google for a response on the same. Upon the enquiry, Google blocked another 44 words on The Markup’s list. The company’s spokesperson was quoted as saying, “these terms are offensive and harmful and should not have been searchable. Our teams have addressed the issue and blocked terms that violate our enforcement policies.” However, even after the Google spokesperson’s statement, 14 of the hate terms on the list remained available to search for videos for ad placements on Google Ads. Upon sending a second email, Google quietly blocked another 11 terms but did not bother to furnish a response.

The Markup also says that Google also shut the door on such investigations into the keyword blocking on Google Ads. The report said that the newly blocked terms are indistinguishable in Google’s code from searches for which there are no related videos – this was not the case when The Markup conducted their investigation.

Google’s Blocking Tactics Are Weak

The Markup report also found out that the block that Google has put in place for hateful terms are also very weak. It said that the Mountain View, California-based giant didn’t even account for simple workarounds like pluralising a singular word, removing spaces, changing a suffix, and the likes. For example, “Aryan nation,” “globalist Jews,” “White pride,” “White pill,” and “White genocide” were all blocked from advertisers as two words, but once the spaces are removed, there are hunders of thousands of video recommendations.

The Markup listed out few of the 440 videos that Google suggested for a YouTube ad campaign related to “Whitegenocide.” These were:

A music video promoting the idea of White genocide that used the White supremacist phrase “anti-racism is code for anti-white.” It was posted by someone whose avatar is an anti-Semitic caricature.

A segment from Infowars, posted by another account, accusing a European Union official of participating in a conspiracy to destabilize predominately White countries by increasing non-White immigration. YouTube banned the official Infowars channel in 2018 for repeated violations of its content rules, “like our policies against hate speech and harassment.” Earlier this year, the account that uploaded this video was also terminated by YouTube.

A video featuring two women reciting White nationalist talking points. One of them was fired from the West Virginia Attorney General’s office for her participation in the clip.

The Google spokesperson told The Markup that Google also has a layer of ad blocking on videos that would automatically stop ads from appearing on hateful and derogatory content. However, The Markup launched an ad campaign targeting YouTube videos that features far-right or white nationalists content that Google recommended for “Whitegenocide.” The ad portal showed the campaing as “eligible,” meaning it is active and can show ads.

Google said that this description only referred to the ad, not the videos that the website selected. All of the videos that The Markup selected were banned from monetising on YouTube for violating the platform’s policy against hate speech. “It’s clear the company is not banning ads on all videos it says are related to the hate term. We saw ads running on more mainstream videos that Google Ads had recommended for “Whitegenocide,” even after approaching Google for this story,” The Markup report said.

Coming to news items showing in the suggestions, Google says that it ranks content from “authorotative sources” at the top of searches.

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