Google apologises for ads that fund extremism

As advertised: The automatic techniques used by major web companies have caused anger.

Yesterday a Google boss apologised. His company have put adverts on videos made by extremists, giving them money. Are Google and Facebook doing enough to deal with hateful content?

Big businesses and the British government have spent a lot of money on online adverts through Google. But a newspaper has found that their adverts are appearing on YouTube videos by extremists: for example, people who deny the Holocaust, or members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Some of the sites which carry the videos received money for the adverts. Some of this money came from people who pay tax or buy TV licences in the UK. In yesterday’s Daily Mail Dominic Lawson said ordinary people were accidentally “funding those who want to destroy Western civilisation”.

Now Google faces a backlash. Last week it was criticised in the UK Parliament. Yesterday its European boss apologised. Big companies and agencies have removed their advertising from Google. And Google may face legal action.

Facebook has also come under fire for not doing enough to police content.

Google and Facebook have changed the advertising industry. In 2015 they received three-quarters of US spending on online adverts.

Google says it removed nearly two billion ‘bad ads’ last year. But yesterday Lawson called the companies “filth-peddling web giants”. Is the criticism fair?

Left google-eyed

Yes, say some. Google and Facebook make vast sums of money but show little interest in dealing with problems online. They have the technology to put adverts in the right place when it makes them money — but cut corners and ignore rules when it does not. They must realise how powerful they are and clean up their act.

They are dealing with a new challenge, say others. Quick changes in technology have made the online world tricky to police. Google and Facebook cannot be responsible for everything their users share. And if they are too eager to remove content or stop people making money from it, that would be seen as censorship.

You Decide

  1. Will this story affect the way you spend your money?

Activities

  1. In pairs, write a list of five questions you would like to ask one of Google’s bosses about this story. Discuss as a class why you chose them.

Some People Say...

“Web companies are not responsible for the way people use the web sites.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Companies and government departments paid Google to put their advertising up and reach an appropriate audience. In several cases their adverts have been placed next to content which they consider inappropriate. Several firms have removed their advertising. Google has apologised and promised to do more to tackle the problem in future.

Word Watch

Businesses
For example, British chains Sainsbury’s and Argos were advertised on videos promoting a Polish group linked to attacks on Muslims.
YouTube
Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006.
Ku Klux Klan
An American group which has a long history of violence against black people and other minority groups.
Money
YouTube posters earn about $7.60 (£6.15) for every 1,000 times an advert is seen. Some of these videos had been viewed a million times.
Removed
Google adds that it stopped adverts appearing on more than 300m YouTube videos.

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