For the second time in less than a year, USF advertisements have been spotted on the alt-right news site Breitbart. After USF blocked ads on Breitbart following the first instance last December, more emerged last week. Both times, the ads were promptly removed by USF’s Office of Marketing and Communication (OMC).
It should be noted that USF did not buy ad space directly from the site. USF — along with most online advertisers — uses Google Display Network. With the ability to reach over 2 million websites, ads through the network are placed on websites based on the site-visitor’s’ IP address, source click and other parameters. Advertisers do not select where their ads will show up and instead give Google the discretion to distribute their content.
According to Anneliese Mauch, assistant vice president of marketing, the first USF ad placed on Breitbart by Google Display Network was brought to the attention of the OMC on Dec. 1, 2016. A series of tweets alerted the office and Breitbart was immediately blacklisted from showing USF ads.
However, even after this ad campaign was blacklisted from Breitbart, another USF ad was seen on Breitbart last Tuesday, over Halloween.
The newest ads surfaced when the Twitter account @AVALANCE_Girls — who described herself in her bio as “unapologetically living at the intersection of tech & social justice” — posted a screenshot showing the pictured USF ad on Breitbart. The account also tagged Sleeping Giants, an advocacy group with over 126k followers on Twitter, who later retweeted @AVALANCE_Girls’s original warning to USF. Sleeping Giants utilizes social media platforms to alert companies when their ads show up on websites promoting bigotry. Companies they alerted who then stopped advertising on Breitbart include AT&T, Kellogg’s and Visa. Sleeping Giants helped bring the first ads on Breitbart to USF’s attention, as well.
Peter Sahaidachny, OMC’s digital marketing manager, explained why the ads could have slipped through. “The ad that was seen on Breitbart that was brought to our attention on October 31 was served through Facebook’s Audience Network. […] What I’m guessing happened is that either through IP address error or a misconstrued web address (if the user originated from within the Facebook mobile app or the web domain [is] different than what is normal […]). Something of that nature is what may have happened in this case that allowed the ad to trigger.”
Grace Berg is a senior at USF who saw @AVALANCE_Girls’ tweet last week. She said, “The Breitbart ad was really surprising to me. […] Whether intentional or not, it sends a message that the readership of this website — catering to far-right narratives that center [on] white supremacy — is a target demographic to incorporate into our student body.”
Sahaidachny also said, “We take this issue seriously, and while Breitbart is protected under the 1st Amendment, we do not support some of the values they express and have put the site on our ad block lists. We actively block the Breitbart web domain at our ad account level, which means all of our campaigns block this domain,” he said.
Assistant VP of marketing Mauch said, “Just by virtue of seeing [a USF ad] on Breitbart does not mean that USF’s money went towards that. It’s a pay-per-click model. That means if no one clicks on it, we don’t pay for it. Now, we still shouldn’t be on Breitbart, but just to be really clear, we’re not actually enriching Breitbart unless somebody clicks on the ad.”
The Foghorn did not obtain the amount of money Breitbart made (if any) from USF ads, assuming site-visitors clicked on the ads.
“We want to make sure [USF ads on Breitbart are] not out there. It certainly is an oversight and we will do everything we can to take it down as soon as possible. It’s actually pretty easy to blacklist sites, the problem is just knowing which sites to blacklist,” said Mauch.
Featured Photo: The second and most recent USF ad on Breitbart that was brought to USF’s attention. TWITTER/@AVALANCE_Girls