While digital advertising has taken center stage in the 2016 election cycle, allowing for improved targeting, a quicker turnover rate and real-time data on the engagement, it has also highlighted the difficulties in tracking where every ad will run.
Researchers at the Digital Citizens Alliance discovered that many candidates’ advertisements on YouTube were placed “next to videos that extol terrorism, push stolen credit card numbers and hacked materials, and demonstrate how to use and spread malware built to take control of computers.”
The study was done in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Virginia, before the electoral contests in those states.
YouTube’s owner Google has an ad-revenue sharing policy with its content providers. Therefore, it could be inferred that nefarious players, including terrorist propagandists, are benefiting from the huge sums of campaign contributions that have been flowing to the presidential contenders to buy inventory.
The report showed that on February 29, 2016, on a computer in Arlington, Virginia, a Hillary for America banner was placed next to a video entitled: “Great Nasheed 2015 Akhi Ablighmy brother inform my companions Youtube.”
A Bernie 2016 pre-roll ad accompanied another video named: “Soldiers of Allah Background Nasheed HD.” In the first frame of this video there appears a black flag, the token ISIL banner.
In an even more amazing display of irony, a super PAC supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who sports an extremely aggressive stance on fighting violent extremism, had a pre-roll ad precede the video: “Anasheed Chechen Mujahideen 1432 anachide songs.”
In February and March of this year, Donald Trump ads, as well as anti-Trump ads, were finding similar placements alongside or overlaying jihadist videos.
The tension here is between the profit maximization drive at Google and the ability to place ads to appropriate content. This balance has clearly tended toward the maximization of profit.
Whereas Google AdWords uses a “contextual target tool,” which helps direct ads to content covering desired topics, an experienced buyer told the Digital Citizens Alliance: “Many campaigns leave the topic group variable blank because it restricts inventory.”
The onus, according to the Alliance, is on Google to be more transparent about how it shares its revenue, particularly with users uploading “illegal or illicit videos.”
However, campaign staffers themselves should also be more careful of and attentive to such unwanted advertising placements. The report further advises campaigns on how to minimize the incidence of such placements occurring on YouTube.