More bad news YouTube:  a new report claims the social video platform is once again serving ads for major advertisers on videos with objectionable content.

This comes after identical claims last year that led to more than a hundred advertisers cancelling ads and boycotting YouTube.  Google promised it would fix the problem once and for all.  Then, ads showed up on sites that appeared to cater to child predators.

Now, strike three.  CNN reports that advertisements from 300 some companies and even government agencies are running on YouTube channels that promote white nationalists, pedophilia, foreign nation propaganda (including North Korea), and conspiracy theories.  CNN cites Adidas, Amazon, Cisco, Hershey, Hilton, LinkedIn, Netflix, NY Times, and UnderArmour as advertisers that showed up on objectionable websites.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is balancing the freedom of expression with our responsibility as a community,” Susan Wojcicki wrote on a YouTube Creator’s Blog.

YouTube’s has a difficult time policing objectionable content, and making sure advertisers aren’t showing up in places they don’t want to be.  They made “Brand Safety” a catch-phrase.

Despite repeated pledges to solve the problem, apparently it hasn’t happened.

YouTube Statement to CNN:

“We have partnered with our advertisers to make significant changes to how we approach monetization on YouTube with stricter policies, better controls and greater transparency. When we find that ads mistakenly ran against content that doesn’t comply with our policies, we immediately remove those ads. We know that even when videos meet our advertiser friendly guidelines, not all videos will be appropriate for all brands. But we are committed to working with our advertisers and getting this right.”

There’s no doubt it’s a difficult problem to solve because of the sheer volume of content that’s posted to YouTube every day.   More than 300 hours of videos are uploaded to just YouTube every minute of every day.  Imagine how difficult it would be for anybody or any algorithm to monitor the content.  With a direct-to-consumer model where content is available without review, it just doesn’t seem possible that some things won’t filter through.

Because of such staggering number, platforms have relied on users to point things out and complain. “We rely on YouTube community members to flag content that they find inappropriate,” the company says. “Flagged content is not automatically taken down by the flagging system.”  Instead, a staff member will review the flagged videos.  They claim to have teams working 24/7/365.


In case you’re wondering, that’s 432,000 hours of new video on YouTube every single day.  It would take you 49.3 years to watch all of it (and that’s without potty breaks or sleeping).  Don’t even think about the next day’s uploads!

Here’s what I wrote about this more than a year ago when the news first broke last year:

Major brands pulled their ads from YouTube after worries about brand security and where their ads will be shown.  Google made assurances that they would prevent ads from showing up on hate speech sites and sites promoting terrorism.

Google went on an apology tour and promised changes.

“…there’s a difference between the free expression that lives on YouTube and the content that brands have told us they want to advertise against.” – YouTube Creator Blog

In April, YouTube announced even more controls for advertisers to make sure their ads don’t show up where they don’t want them to.  New filters for objectionable content and “high risk content” have been put in place for advertisers in light of significant advertisers pulling ads from the Google video website.

There is another way to reach your target, though.  Working directly with brand name publishers guarantees your ads will be seen in a quality environment. As good as Google is, ad networks have a built-in problem: they can’t safely police every site that’s in the network. The amount of content that is uploaded daily is staggering and the crooks out there keep moving the ball. Imagine the magnitude of monitoring every item to every site out there… every second… and determining its validity. I don’t know that there is AI capable of that task.