Two of the world’s best-known brands, Mars and Adidas, are pulling their adverts from YouTube and parent company Google over fears that they were featured on ‘inappropriate’ and ‘exploitative’ content featuring children.
The news comes alongside accusations from volunteer moderators at YouTube that the site’s system for reporting sexualised comments on children’s videos has not been working properly for over a year. According to these volunteers, there could be as many as 100,000 predatory accounts leaving inappropriate comments on videos.
As the world’s largest video-sharing website, YouTube relies on a combination of algorithms and external users to report and remove exploitative content. But despite the recommended minimum age for using the site as 13, videos uploaded by children are prolific on the site.
Mars and Adidas have reportedly become concerned by the frequency of indecent comments posted on videos either uploaded by, or featuring children. According to Sky News, many of the children in these videos are partially clothed or dressed in nightwear. Additionally, there is also evidence of some individuals asking children to participate in private discussions with them.
Mars told Sky News: “We are shocked and appalled to see that our adverts have appeared alongside such exploitative and inappropriate content. We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally. We have stringent guidelines and processes in place and are working with Google and our media buying agencies to understand what went wrong.
“Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”
Sportswear giant Adidas has also suspended its advertising on YouTube until the issue had been resolved. It said: “Adidas takes this issue very seriously and were completely unaware that this situation had arisen on YouTube today. We recognise that this situation is clearly unacceptable and have taken immediate action, working closely with Google on all necessary steps to prevent this from happening again.
“We will work with our media agencies and directly with Google to ensure that all future programmatic media buying is closely monitored and everything is done in the future to avoid any reoccurrences of this situation.”
According to Sky News, companies including Diageo, Amazon and eBay are also reviewing their positions. In total, this could cost the tech giant millions of pounds in lost advertising revenue.
This move follows YouTube’s decision to remove advertising revenue on videos targeted at children that feature ‘creepy’ and inappropriate content.
According to YouTube, many of these videos seem kid-friendly but quickly descend into inappropriate acts that may be harmful to younger audiences. One video found by a blogger for Business Insider UK, which has since been blocked, showed cartoon character Peppa Pig drinking bleach.
To date YouTube has ‘demonetised’ (removed ad revenue) over 3.5 million videos that feature disturbing cartoons and visuals aimed at children.
The debate started earlier this year, after a number of content creators were demonetised, apparently automatically, in an ongoing event now being called ‘The Adpocalypse’.
YouTube has since stated that it is working on its policies, noting: “Content that endangers children is abhorrent and unacceptable to us. We have clear policies against videos and comments on YouTube which sexualise or exploit children and we enforce them aggressively whenever alerted to such content. We have recently toughened our approach to videos and comments featuring children which may not be illegal, but give cause for concern.
“We also work closely with the Internet Watch Foundation, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, and others to prevent child sexual abuse imagery from ever being uploaded and report it to law enforcement.
“We are committed to getting this right and recognise we need to do more, both through machine learning and by increasing human and technical resources.”
Governments and authorities around the world have already voiced concerns about online bullying, harassment and extremism, demanding the major global tech companies do more to police their own content – with little apparent effect. If more brands and advertisers, follow Mars and Adidas by pulling advertising from platforms such as YouTube, it could trigger a major change in attitude. Even the largest tech companies, with the deepest pockets will have to start paying attention.