YouTube on Friday demonetized channels which promote anti-vax content, after BuzzFeed notified a spate of advertisers that their ads were being run alongside anti-vax videos, reports BuzzFeed. YouTube said that such videos fall under its policy prohibiting videos with "dangerous and harmful" content to be monetized.
"We have strict policies that govern what videos we allow ads to appear on, and videos that promote anti-vaccination content are a violation of those policies. We enforce these policies vigorously, and if we find a video that violates them, we immediately take action and remove ads," reads an emailed statement from YouTube to BuzzFeed.
Seven different advertisers said they weren’t aware their ads were appearing on videos like “Mom Researches Vaccines, Discovers Vaccination Horrors and Goes Vaccine Free,” which advocates against vaccinating children, and reached out to YouTube to pull the programmatic placements.
Their ads appeared on videos from channels including VAXXED TV, LarryCook333 (a proponent of StopMandatoryVaccinations.com), and iHealthTube, all of which YouTube has since demonetized, or prevented from running ads. -BuzzFeed
One health tech company, Nomad Health, told BuzzFeed News that it "does not support the anti-vaccination movement," and was "not aware of our ads running alongside anti-vaccination videos." The company said it would "take action to prevent it from happening in the future."
Another such advertiser - discount vitamin company Vitacost, said it pulled all of its advertising on Tuesday after a blogger made a viral video highlighting a "soft-core pedo ring" operating on the platform.
"We pulled all YouTube advertising on Tuesday morning when we noticed content issues. We had strict rules to prevent our ads from serving on sensitive content and they were not effective as promised," said a VitaCost spokesperson via email, who added. "We will continue to remain off of the platform until those changes are made and are proven to be effective by other advertisers."
The advertisers contacted by BuzzFeed said they were unaware that their algorithmically dictated "programmic ads" were appearing alongside anti-vax videos.
"When we purchase programmatic media, we specify parameters that restrict the placement of our ads from association with certain content. Even so, however, sometimes ads get served in places that we don’t approve of. This is one of those cases," said a Retail Me Not spokesperson. "We’re working to exclude this placement now."
A spokesman for software company Grammarly said the company also took immediate action.
"Upon learning of this, we immediately contacted YouTube to pull our ads from appearing not only on this channel but also to ensure related content that promulgates conspiracy theories is completely excluded," they said, adding "We have stringent exclusion filters in place with YouTube that we believed would exclude such channels. We’ve asked YouTube to ensure this does not happen again."
Grammarly was one of several companies which asked YouTube to pull its ads from sexually suggestive children's videos. AT&T, Hasbro, Kellogg, Epic Games and Nestle were among the other brands who did the same.
"Any content – including comments – that endangers minors is abhorrent, and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube. We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities, and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that include minors," YouTube said in a Thursday statement to USA Today. "There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly."
According to BuzzFeed, "Other companies that asked YouTube to stop their ads from appearing alongside anti-vax content include:
Brilliant Earth, a jewelry company, which said it has “made internal adjustments to our ad settings and will also follow up with our advertising partners to prevent our ads from appearing next to this content.”
CWCBExpo, a marijuana trade show, which said it would be “implementing strict guidelines on content placement and is eliminating hundreds of YouTube channels/videos and negative keywords.”
XTIVIA, which said it was “reviewing the ad placement,” which was “not [its] requested target.”
SolarWinds, a software company, which said the placement was unintentional and that it had “adjusted [its] filters to further refine the targeting of our ads on YouTube to better align with our targeted audience, MSPs and technology professionals.”
YouTube responded earlier this week to another controversy after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) demanded that Facebook and YouTube parent company Google address anti-vax information on their platforms.
BuzzFeed's journalistic activism is reminiscent of CNN - which hounded advertisers to 'unperson' InfoWars founder Alex Jones last year. The result? "Many of the brands -- including Nike, Moen, Expedia, Acer, ClassPass, Honey, Alibaba and OneFamily -- have suspended ads on InfoWars' channels after being contacted by CNN for comment."