Years ago, before Google acquired YouTube, YouTube was blissfully ad free. It seems that it will be headed in that direction once again. Advertisers such as AT&T, Verizon, Johnson and Johnson, and Lyft are among several companies that are fleeing YouTube. Not because they are not making any money, but because of where their ads are placed on the site. Advertisers claim that their ads are played before videos that are offensive. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Lyft became the latest example, removing its ads after they appeared next to videos from a racist skinhead group. ‘This is beyond offensive,’ a Lyft spokesman, Scott Coriell, said. ‘As soon as we learned of it, we pulled our advertising on YouTube.’” However, by removing their ads from YouTube, Lyft will not stop racists or anyone from posting videos that are considered by millions to be offensive. Thousands of millions of people are offensive, rude, and or malicious are going to purchase products by these companies, whether or not an ad directed them to the product.
Many of these companies simply state they do not wish to have their ads associated with negative content. However, is this the only reason?
Perhaps the companies in question gain more public support if they pull their ads from YouTube. We saw during the Superbowl that socially aware companies have a lot working against them and that their socially aware ads can have a negative impact on their stock market values. Perhaps these companies are using this “negative content” as an excuse to remove their ads from YouTube without causing a massive scene, which seems to be working. As this topic is not getting a lot of traction in the media. It could also be that these companies were not generating enough profit to continue their ads on YouTube. Whatever the reason may be, advertisers are leaving the video platform at an alarming rate. If it were one company, then it might have gone unnoticed, but several companies have left and this should cause Google, YouTube’s parent, company to worry.
Hate speech videos, as we have seen with extremists, can inspire others to commit deadly crimes. However, these videos although they do produce hate speech are not legal under the First Amendment, because the videos have the intent to encourage individuals to commit crimes. Other hate speech videos do not fall under this category because the people in those videos are only spewing rhetoric and are not encouraging people to take hateful actions. However, when people are inspired to take actions after watching these other types of hate speech videos the first people blamed are the creators of the video. This is neither fair nor accurate, because the individual who committed the action acted alone. The idea is similar to when parents blame violent video games for their child’s behavior. In that scenario the parents are to blame because they let their child play the video game or are not monitoring what games come into their household. It’s not the fault of the video game’s creators because they created a game for enjoyment.
Ads that are placed on YouTube do not promote specific videos. The ads have one purpose, which is to expose a potential buyer to their product. According to the New York Times, YouTube uses ad technology “that companies can [use programmatic advertising to] target specific viewers. That technology, known as programmatic advertising, allows advertisers to lay out the general parameters of what kind of person they want to reach — say, a young man under 25 — and trust that their ad will find that person, no matter where he might be on the internet.” This is telling us that the parameters that advertisers are putting out for their products are attracting the same people that they do not want, which are the individuals who view or publish offensive videos. Except, that according to the parameters they set, they do in fact want to reach those individuals, so that they can sell their products and make a profit.
However, people need to remember that if a YouTuber is spewing hate speech then that legally falls under the First Amendment. Many individuals may or may not agree with this, but that’s why the First Amendment so powerful. The First Amendment gives an individual the right to say whatever he or she likes. However, that does not mean an individual can take legal action as it pertains to those words. For example, an individual can legally say they want to commit an illegal action, but once those actions turn into words then it becomes an illegal act. An individual who claims to hate hate speech can, under the First Amendment, produce hate speech for hate speech. As long as the content does not overreach the boundaries of the First Amendment, meaning that people take their words and turn them into action, then there is nothing that YouTube or the law can do.
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