Last month, a number of high profile companies removed their ads from YouTube, including Johnson & Johnson, GM, and PepsiCo. The companies complained that Google provided them no mechanism to ensure that their ads did not appear alongside hate speech or other hateful and violent content. In response, Google immediately made it easier for advertisers to control what appears alongside their ads. The bad publicity and lost revenue were too great a motivator for the company.
Now advertisers are flexing their social muscle on a new target. Bill O’Reilly, the infamous Fox News host, has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment. Fox reportedly paid $13 million to settle five separate claims against him (this, of course, is on top of a number of other prominent accusations of sexual harassment against other Fox executives). And after a bombshell New York Times exposé on Mr. O’Reilly over the weekend, advertisers have had enough: first Mercedes-Benz announced that they would pull all their ads on his program because “we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” followed quickly by a number of other companies including Hyundai, BMW, Constant Contact, Untuckit, and Ainsworth Pet Nutrition.
Advertisers remain the major source of revenue for both old media companies like Fox and new media companies like Google. Mr. O’Reilly’s show alone brought in $446 million in advertising revenue for Fox in the last three years. Advertisers’ sudden decision to use their leverage for social good may or may not continue—after all, they want to reach audiences, and pulling their ads isn’t a great way to do that. But this trend also raises the bigger question of who exactly is responsible for hateful, violent, or misogynist content available on media platforms. The people who write and speak it? The advertisers who support it? The companies that allow it to air? Or the viewers and readers who watch and listen?
What do you think? Should Advertisers Be Responsible for the Content Next to Their Ads?
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