YouTube is experiencing a serious backlash from advertisers who have formed a boycott over concerns that their ads may appear next to offensive content. According to a report from Bloomberg, parent-company Alphabet (which owns Google, and through it, YouTube) has lost $26 billion in market value in a single week as a result. This past Friday, PepsiCo Inc., Starbucks Corp., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. joined the boycott.
Recently, offensive content has been increasing in the public eye. Well-known “YouTube celebrities” such as video game streamer Jonathan “JonTron” Jafari, and YouTube’s most successful vlogger, Felix Arvid Ulf “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, were called on the carpet over racist content and comments. Jafari, the child of Iranian and Hungarian immigrants himself, expressed anti-immigrant sentiments and repeated rhetoric about black crime rates. As per Kotaku, he lost his voice-acting role in the upcoming video game Yooka-Laylee as a result. PewDiePie was called out over anti-semitic jokes in his videos, eventually losing his deals with Disney and YouTube Red.
Now that these YouTube personalities are making mainstream headlines and losing sponsorships from major corporations, corporate America has started to be concerned that their ad content might be the next brand shown alongside something offensive, and concerns over YouTube’s poor policing of videos are rising. Rob Griffin, CIO at marketing agency Almighty, said that “I’ve always been suspect of advertising on YouTube. There’s not really great content in there.”
“This will dent their long-term prospect of making YouTube an alternative to TV.”
“It’s difficult to understand what motivates Google,” another advertising executive told WIRED, speaking under condition of anonymity.
“When you’ve operated a marketplace, or owned and operated inventory that’s been so non-compliant with basic standards for so long, you can’t erase that mark overnight.“
Google, meanwhile, has been attempting damage control, promising to do better and tighten up marketing controls as soon as possible. They sent a memo to advertising partners last week, pledging to finally introduce a video verification process, add a staff hotline dedicated to brand safety, and roll out a new automated system to flag suspect videos, changes which they stated they intended to roll out by Sunday night. Those changes are to include a system that will automatically pull ads from any flagged video.
But advertisers remain unconvinced that Google can completely change YouTube in such a brief span of time after having owned the site for over ten years without major strides forward in content control.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that YouTube’s current methods for flagging offensive content aren’t only not very good, they can be – as the Inquisitr has previously reported – actively, if accidentally, discriminatory, or easily abused. YouTube’s “Restricted Mode,” a setting similar to SafeSearch designed to filter offensive results for the end-user, was recently slammed on social media for censoring LGBT content, in many cases on what seemed to be a blanket basis with queer and LGBT YouTube channels ending up entirely restricted, regardless of actual content. It’s been suggested that one of the biggest culprits there may be YouTube’s reliance on “community flagging” to determine what is and is not offensive, a system which can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous users.
YouTube, however, is scrambling to reassure advertisers that their changes “should give [advertisers] confidence that their ads will not appear against inappropriate content,” but added that they could never make a 100 percent guarantee, and noted themselves that four of the 48 videos highlighted in the media over the past month alone would not have tripped the system to automatically remove ads.
And that’s concerning for advertisers and content creators alike. Brands don’t hear that they are 91 percent likely to not be connected to racism, anti-Semitism, and more, as reassuring. Content creators don’t want to hear that their content may be flagged and have their revenue instantly pulled by an automated system – especially one from a company already notorious for removing content due to false-flags on copyright violations.
Paul Verna, an analyst with EMarketer, was emphatic that reassurances from Google weren’t going to cut it this time around.
“What they have done clearly is not enough. They must sit down with advertisers and literally show them how they are changing these algorithms.”
[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]