Youtube monetizes user-blocked channels thanks to shortcomings and slow moderation
Rodolfo Almeida

Breaches in the workings of the platform allow unwanted channels to earn, to the discontent of payers.

Leia esta reportagem em Português

Channels which are deemed unwanted due to disinformation or hate speech on YouTube can make money on the platform for a short while even after being blocked by advertisers, according to a survey from Núcleo.

When an advertiser launches a campaign, content creators are paid an amount in dollars for every ten thousand views of a specific video (a metric known as CPM).

But there are glitches in this system, since it allows temporary monetization even when companies warn beforehand that they don't want to see their content on specific channels.


It matters because...
  • Subterfuges allow tampering, if only temporarily, with the blocking system of ads so that pages and channels containing false or offensive content can host publicity by third parties who don't want them there.
  • Companies have acted to hamper the monetization of fake news and biased content, but social media is taking baby steps on that issue.

That's what happened to Netflix in October of 2021.

Ads on the streaming platform kept rewarding presenter Sikêra Júnior's channel – even after it had banned Sikêra, who once attacked gay people and is a pandemic naysayer, from the listing of pages where it considers advertising.

That is a familiar problem in YouTube owner's Google ad suite.

A case in point is that of brazilian cosmetics manufacturer Natura, whose publicity was exposed in content which was critical of the company via Google Ads. In that case, website Jornal da Cidade Online, a known spreader of disinformation, made money with ads by Natura by means of a text attacking Father's Day featuring transgender actor Thammy Miranda.

Avon has also related recurring ads posted on the same site to their having been broadcast by "affiliates", skirting the brand's control mechanisms.

That is possible thanks to the use of "redirectors" – services (often located abroad) which act as a go-between (proxy) to sites which don't get ads via Google. For the sake of comparison, someone places an order using a neighbor's address because the company is not willling to deliver the goods at that person's home.

There is also the issue of slow moderation of videos on the platform, which is performed both by an algorithm and manually by a team in charge of finding those channels.

While the process is still under way, the monetization keeps on going – a few seconds are enough for an ad to pop up in a video and for the influencer to get paid for its content, even it if breaches YouTube's policies or advertiser's choices.YouTube's PR office told Núcleo that ads can take up to 24 hours to disappear once blocked. Also, keywords must be appropriately listed for the blocking to be duly activated.

FINGER POINTING

The practice of demonetizing channels by not displaying ad pieces in specific spaces has gained public clout thanks to the Sleeping Giants movement in the USA during 2016's presidential elections.

The movement's basic M.O. is acting through activists' campaings on social media, where it tells on companies who place ads on websites ripe with fake news and demands changes in their ad policies.

In Brazil, that project arrived in 2020, where it has already notified over 1,000 companies and had over 900 positive feedbacks from brands that have committed to removing their publicity from misinformative portals and channels, according to information provided by Sleeping Giants Brasil. Bradesco, Adidas, Ford, Fiat, Uber and Amazon are among them.

The impact has been big enough to generate lawsuits – which Sikêra Júnio lost – and criticism that the project flies in the face of freedom of speech, especially in right wing outlets.

"We know of several companies who have had issues with online ad blocking, which shut down their publicity, but were found again by our followers", said Leonardo Leal, half the founding duo of Sleeping Giants Brasil.

"We place our faith in their accountability when these companies tell us that they removed the ads. We believe that the problem lies someplace else".

– LEONARDO LEAL, SLEEPING GIANTS BRASIL

But a few dozen times Leal and his partner, attorney Mayara Stelle, had to sanction again those companies who admitted to blocking financing, such as was the case of Netflix with Sikêra and Natura with Jornal da Cidade Online.

On Netflix's case, its brazilian account argued that the mistake was due to an issue with automatic purchases. Núcleo asked the streaming platform for additional details to no avail. Netflix argued that it will only discuss the subject on Twitter.

But a few dozen times Leal and his partner, attorney Mayara Stelle, had to sanction again those companies who admitted to blocking financing, such as was the case of Netflix with Sikêra and Natura with Jornal da Cidade Online.

On Netflix's case, its brazilian account argued that the mistake was due to an issue with automatic purchases. Núcleo asked the streaming platform for additional details to no avail. Netflix argued that it will only discuss the subject on Twitter.

At the time, companies Carrefour and Rappi employed the same argument to explain recurring ads. SGBR also sanctioned Banco Inter, Submarino, Netshoes, Kabum, Vivo and Lojas Americanas.

MONETIZATION AT A STEADY PACE

If moderation can be slow, monetization goes at a steady pace. According to YouTube, once ads are activated, they're published on all eligible videos and become a source of income.

"The ads posted on videos are automatically selected based on various factors, such as audiences, video metadata and video suitability to advertising", the platform's PR office explained to Núcleo.

YouTube provides segment tools to advertisers, which allow companies to choose channels they'd like to be linked to based on target audiences.

Even more important to the issue at hand, they also allow companies to choose which ones they'd rather not be linked to – and not necessarily a fake news or hate speech-infested website. That tool allows, for instance, a vegan goods company to keep its publicity from being associated to a barbecue enthusiast influencer, and vice-versa.

"It so happens that many companies were not aware that was possible before Sleeping Giants because they outsourced their marketing services or paid them little attention", said Leal concerning the reasons why this topic has only come to light recently. "In the end, they thank us, because they know that sponsoring noxious content brings no positive results".

Youtube itself demonetizes channels on occasion, first by creating the so called Partnership Program, which demands more rigorous display criteria from creators who seek profit. Those who don't comply may be banned beforehand or shunned from the program later.

In its guidelines of ad content, the platform lists inadequate language, violence, adult content, hate or deprecating speech and even the broad term "controversial matters" among the topics to be considered when restraining or banning ads on a video.

WHAT THE PLATFORM SAYS

YouTube states that the viewing rates of contents that breach its policies dropped 70% when compared to 2017. Additionally, in October it announced that, beginning that same month, it would stop displaying ads deemed of poor quality on channels devoted to children, such as incentives to consumerism or bullying, as well as channels that go against cientific consensus regarding the causes of climatic change.

"As a technology platform, we are subject to occasional mistakes, and we work so that they're fixed at the earliest possible time, even if those issues occur at a small rate on the services we provide", the platform's PR office said to Núcleo.

To Leal, of Sleeping Giants Brasil, companies have taken an increasingly proactive role in this movement, while social media does not move at the same pace. "Algorithms will let fake news and hate speech slip by as long as they're profitable", he concludes.

HOW WE DID IT

Núcleo got in touch with Sleeping Giants Brasil to ask for examples of ads which resurfaced on channels blocked by companies.

Afterwards, it sought contact with the PR offices of Netflix, Ifood, Natura, Rappi and Vivo for explanations, but got no reply.

We also sent questions to Youtube to understand the process of video monetization on its network.

By Beatriz Montesanti
Art by Rodolfo Almeida
Editing by Sérgio Spagnuolo and Samira Menezes



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