Lastminute.com and RBS are the latest brands to pull their ads from far-right news site Breitbart, following reports that close to 2600 advertisers had disassociated themselves from the Steve Bannon-fronted outlet.
The brands confirmed to The Drum that have taken steps to ensure their ads would no longer be served alongside content from the publisher. As late as Tuesday (22 August) promotions from both brands were featured on the homepage and above articles on the site in the form of banner ads (served via Google’s ad network).
“We take placement of our ads very seriously - we do not support any strong opinion which violates the rights of others,” a Lastminute.com spokesperson told The Drum.
RBS, meanwhile, said it also takes the issue “extremely seriously.” A spokesperson added: "We have suspended all advertising with this website. Our ads are served up through a third party and we are investigating why they have appeared here.”
Earlier this week, activist group Sleeping Giants released a list of almost 2575 companies it claimed have removed their ads from Brietbart news. Sleeping Giants noted that while household names Nestlé, Uber, Hewlett Packard and Ikea had removed their ads from the site, others like Amazon had not.
The Next Web cites sources as having said internal pressure is “mounting” for Amazon to blacklist the publisher so that programmatic ads are not served on the site on behalf of the e-commerce giant. On Monday several high-profile Twitter users implored the retailer to distance itself from Brietbart, while other brands, like cookware firm Le Creuset have asked the company to stop showing its products in its display ads on Breitbart.
When The Drum visited the site on Thursday (24 August) it was served Amazon ads on two separate occasions, indicating the retailer has yet block the site from its list of accepted publishers with programmatic partners. The ads were for Amazon's own fashion brand and external brands, like Yakoe. The Drum has reached out to Amazon regarding the matter, but at the time of publication had yet to receive a response.
Breitbart, which has previously run such headlines as: 'Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy', ‘The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage' and 'Gay rights have made us dumber, it's time to get back in the closet', was banned from AppNexus’ ad exchange last year on the grounds of hate speech.
But, both Facebook and Google’s display networks still serve up ads on behalf of brands around Breitbart content.
Facebook specifically has introduced ways to let advertisers who purchase slots through their marketplace view a list of places where their ads will appear online before they start their campaigns.
When approached for further information about Breitbart ad placement, Facebook said that all websites and apps must adhere to its community standards. The company added that it reviews placements within its audience network reactively and that on top of domain blocking it offers brands the ability to block their ads from appearing against certain sensitive topics should they wish.
Google similarly enforces its ad policies at a page level so even if a website doesn't breach its policies, it can take action on specific pages if brands make that request. The search giant was unable to comment on its Adsense plug-in with Breitbart.
Amazon's conundrum, and questions about whether Breitbart violates either Facebook or Google's policies, comes amid debates on both brand safety and the role of tech companies in policing the internet.
The latter came to a head when neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer was removed from the internet last week after it disparaged a woman who died during protests in Charlottesville. The Daily Stormer's site host, GoDaddy, gave it 24-hours to find a new provider, while Cloudfare - which had been enlisted by the blog to help it prevent cyber attacks - also terminated its contract.
In a memo to staff, however, Cloudfare's chief executive Matthew Prince later said the whims of tech leaders like himself or Zuckerberg, shouldn't determine what content is available online.
"I think the people who run The Daily Stormer are abhorrent," said Prince, "but again, I don’t think my political decisions should determine who should and shouldn’t be on the internet.”
Breitbart has recently seen the return of former White House communications chief Steve Bannon to the helm, with the site hailing the return of its “populist hero” following an advertiser boycott and apparently plummeting readership in the wake of Trump’s election to the White House.
According to a Washington Post report published earlier this summer, the site has been keen to trim back some of its more extreme elements in a bid for mainstream respectability, including the departure of incendiary writer Milo Yiannopoulos.
The Drum has tried to contact Breitbart about its advertiser exodus, but the publisher didn't respond to a request for comment.
When Kellogg's pulled its ad spend from the site last year, the news organization called for a boycott on the FMCG giant's products.