Google Vows Change After Ad Firms Exit Over Offensive Videos

March 24, 2017 - 3 minutes read

Mobile app developers who have found themselves lost in a YouTube hole can attest to the existence of the platform’s dark corners. Really you don’t have to plunge all that far to find vile content — just look at the comments on even the most innocuous videos (although you’d be better off if you didn’t). Objectionable, hateful content has become a major issue for advertisers, who are understandably concerned when their ads appear before homophobic rants, white supremacist tirades, or similarly offensive videos. This week, Google offered assurances that it would fix its ad policies and give companies more say over where their ads appear.

This move comes after the U.K. branch of ad agency Havas Worldwide, whose digital marketing budget runs around $200 million, pulled its ads from YouTube and Google’s advertising network. Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s U.K., Audi, L’Oreal, Lloyds Banking, and other U.K. companies have followed suit. Later in the week, U.S. brands, including Verizon and A.T. & T., also withdrew their advertising, which, as any mobile app developer knows, is a devastating blow for a company whose business model is built on ad dollars. In response to this boycott, YouTube has outlined steps that it is taking to deal with the problem, including taking a harsher position on hate speech, effectively demonetizing inflammatory content, and granting advertiser’s increased control over what videos their brands are associated with.

But a lot of Android app developers are left wondering who gets to decide what content is offensive. YouTube received a lot of flak recently for blocking some LGBTQ content with its Restricted Mode, an issue the company addressed when announcing the changes to its ad policies. Certain LGBTQ-friendly videos have been reviewed and deemed safe for Restricted Mode, and the company promises that their development team will incorporate the outraged feedback they received into their systems as they move forward. The platform is also speeding up the appeals process for any creator who feels that their video has been unfairly demonetized, a vital check against the sort of automated censorship some users fear.

Google’s problem with nasty content mirrors the struggle of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, who are struggling to find ways to combat trolls, eliminate hate speech, and weed out illicit content. This is a tricky problem given the astronomical amount of data that floods these platforms daily. It will be interesting for San Francisco mobile app developers to see how YouTube fairly polices the 400 hours of video pouring into the platform every minute.

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