Who's Funding Hate?

It’s not that complicated. Advertisers have a clear goal: They want to sell stuff -- cable channels, newspaper subscriptions, sports tickets. You know, stuff.

What they don’t want to do is alienate customers or potential customers. So historically, they have steered clear of controversy. But historically, when brands have found themselves on objectionable sites, they’ve blamed third-party ad tech and delivered a cookie-cutter apology: “Sorry, won’t happen again.” And round we go.

A handful of watchdogs like Sleeping Giants and Check My Ads operate the "blame and shame" strategy -- and so the game of whack-a-mole continues.

But we may be in a time of change.

CNN reported last week that big brand advertisers were finding their ads supporting VDARE, an explicitly racist, white nationalist website.  “Those companies and organizations include Amazon, Samsung, the Denver Broncos, Cox Communications, STARZ, The Wall Street Journal, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, the University of Missouri, New York Waterway, Axios, Puck, Ad Age, Morning Brew, and the Asian Development Bank,” reported CNN.

Facebook and YouTube have banned VDARE from their platforms, but X has instead leaned into racist and antisemitic content. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) released a study earlier this year documenting the growing volume of antisemitic tweets.

Media Matters last month alerted the NFL to its ads being placed on objectionable content. “Toxic content makes companies that advertise with X especially vulnerable, as the platform has placed advertisements for major brands directly on pro-Hitler, Holocaust denial, white nationalist, pro-violence, and neo-Nazi accounts,” wrote Erik Hananoki. The NFL responded: “NFL unequivocally denounces any form of hate speech and has absolutely no association with these individuals or any group that promotes racism.”

So, it’s time for change. Twitter under Musk fired its trust and safety team, returned notorious hate speech promoters to the platform, and has taken on a very public battle with the ADL and its executive director.

Semaphor reported a series of leaked emails documenting growing concerns of brand advertisers.

For example, Tariq Hassan, McDonald’s chief marketing and customer experience officer wrote: “For many communities, his [Musk’s] willingness to leverage success and personal financial resources to further an agenda under the guise of freedom of speech is perpetuating racism resulting [in] direct threats to their communities and a potential for brand safety compromise we should all be concerned about.”

Colgate-Palmolive Vice President  Diana Haussling wrote she was “mindful of the harmful and often racist rhetoric of Elon Musk.”



These emails are from April, and since then things have only gotten worse.

Let’s do some brand safety math. Elon Musk has made his public position clear. As a “free speech absolutist,” he welcomes racism, antisemitism, hate speech, and a wide array of content that is antithetical to brand safety.

Bob Garfield, who covered the advertising business for 25 years, and with whom I host a weekly podcast, wasn’t about to mince words here.  “I read these articles from people who work in content moderation at Facebook whose feelings are so hurt that the implication is that they're not doing their job and they don't care about the public and their ‘dedicated team works tirelessly.’ I have no sympathy for that, because the companies they work for are amoral except for when they're immoral.” And why don’t brands fight back? Says Garfield: “Their job isn't to have a sense of moral rectitude. It's to advance the brand.”

So the question for Amazon, Samsung, the Denver Broncos, Cox Communications, STARZ, The Wall Street Journal, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, the University of Missouri, New York Waterway, Axios, Puck, Ad Age, Morning Brew, the Asian Development Bank, the NFL and a whole list of aggrieved advertisers is: Why not simply abandon the platform? There are plenty of ways to reach audiences, plenty of ad networks, sites, and distributors. Television networks, radio, Google, Amazon, Yahoo -- each of them would happily place brand ads with X as an excluded platform.

The message should be simple: "If you want to place our ads, don’t put them on a platform that embraces and amplifies hate."

Maybe Musk doesn’t care about brand safety. But brands should. So vote with your economic power, and dial down the Hate For Profit ecosystem.

2 comments about "Who's Funding Hate?".
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  1. Jonathan Bouman from Oodle, October 9, 2023 at 1:45 p.m.

    100% agree. Thanks for bringing this up again.

  2. Craig Lesly from Lesly Consulting, October 12, 2023 at 3:11 p.m.

    Musk is the modern-day Voltaire: "I may not agree with a word you say, but I'd fight to the death for your right to say it."

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