Dangerous by Design
Profiting from Hate: Platforms’ Ad Placement Problem
Some social media platforms are potentially profiting from advertisement placements alongside searches for hate groups and extremists, according to a new review by the Anti-Defamation League and the Tech Transparency Project.

We examined whether four major social media platforms—YouTube, X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram—are potentially profiting from ad placements alongside searches for hate groups and extremists. This new review by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found a range of results. 

The most problematic of the four was YouTube. Not only did the company profit from searches for hate groups on its platform, YouTube is also creating—and profiting from—music videos for white supremacist bands. The review found that YouTube ran ads in search results for dozens of antisemitic and white supremacist groups, allowing the platforms to likely earn money from hate-related queries. This included ads for Walmart, Amazon, and Wayfair.   

We also identified an issue specific to YouTube: The platform is serving ads for brands like McDonald’s, Microsoft, and Disney alongside music videos for white supremacist bands. Even more disturbing, YouTube itself generated these videos as part of an automated process to create more artist content for its platform.  

Our review found that X has also placed ads alongside searches for hate groups, but for a smaller percentage of hate group searches than YouTube.   

Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram, by contrast, only served ads in a handful of hate group searches, showing that it is possible for tech platforms to avoid this problem. 

These findings show how YouTube and X are potentially generating ad revenue off content produced by hate groups that would violate their own policies. In the process, major brands are unwittingly associated with groups that stir up antisemitism and hate online and, in some cases, inspire violence in the physical world.

Notably, all ads displayed a notation such as “Ad,” “Promoted,” or “Sponsored”, which is designed to serve as a disclaimer of an association between the searched content and the served advertisement. Despite this effort, in our opinion the monetization alongside this content is problematic. 

Note: These reviews were conducted in Summer 2023, but we ran spot checks in mid-September on both YouTube and X, using some of the same search terms. Our results showed that hate group searches continued to be monetized with advertising. Although some of the desktop searches for YouTube no longer produced ads, the mobile ones did. On X, hate group searches continued to produce ads on mobile and desktop. 

Read more here.

September 27, 2023
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