Federal advertising ‘blacklist’ of websites includes far-right outlets

Makes sense. Alex Marland’s points about more transparency regarding the criteria for inclusion/exclusion are valid, however:

The extreme-right outlets The Rebel, Breitbart and the Daily Stormer are among more than 3,000 websites on an internal “blacklist” to ensure the federal government’s digital advertisements do not appear on sites promoting hate, porn, gambling and other subjects deemed unacceptable.

The expansive list also includes conservative news sites like the Drudge Report, the Washington Times, Gateway Pundit and the National Review, as well as many non-political websites, such as TMZ, Esquire and Cosmopolitan.

CBC News obtained a copy of a recent version of the list, dating from June, via an Access to Information request.

There are 3,071 websites on the current blacklist, which is maintained and regularly updated for the federal government by Cossette Media, the agency hired to place Ottawa’s ads online, on radio and TV and in newspapers. The vast majority of federal ad dollars is now directed to the web.

The released version of the blacklist is non-alphabetical and uncategorized, with no information about the date a website was added nor about the reasons for its inclusion.

“It has evolved consistently since it was established [in 2012], and continues to evolve as the internet landscape and industry trends change and technology advances,” Nicolas Boucher, spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), said in an email.

“Categories have expanded, and sensitivities evolve over time.”

Boucher, whose department co-ordinates federal advertising, declined to respond when asked about the reason for inclusion of particular websites, including some that appear innocuous.

But sites can be blacklisted because they “have consistently underperformed in advertising campaigns,” he noted. “Sites may also be excluded if there have been comments or complaints about the content.”

Breitbart added in December

Breitbart, the U.S.-based ultra-right website to which Steve Bannon recently returned after his departure as U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was added to the list last December after complaints.

The move followed a social media campaign by Sleeping Giants, a shadowy activist group that emerged on Facebook and Twitter last November and pressed corporations to pull their ads from Breitbart, which also runs several affiliated websites.

Sleeping Giants focused on the Canadian government after an ad for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission appeared on the site for three days, Nov. 28-30, 2017, before being pulled. Previously, ads for Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada had also appeared there.

And in May this year, Sleeping Giants launched a campaign urging corporations to pull ads from Canadian ultra-right site The Rebel.

Boucher would not say when The Rebel was added to the blacklist, or why. (The outlet received a letter of support from Environment Minister Catherine McKenna last October when it applied for media accreditationat a climate conference in Morocco, in a press-freedom controversy.)

A Jan. 4 ministerial briefing note for PSPC outlines “brand safety measures” for determining which websites are forbidden when government digital ads are purchased via networks such as the Google Display Network.

“For digital advertising that is purchased programmatically — that is, by a computer, based on a series of parameters — we developed a list of acceptable sites referred to as a whitelist,” says the document, also obtained by CBC News under Access to Information.

‘Ensuring that editorial content does not incite racial hatred, discrimination or the subversion of Canada’s democratic system of government.’– Official criteria for excluding websites from receiving federal government ads

“For maximum safety, the whitelist is used in conjunction with a blacklist filter,” the document says.

“The screening process is based on criteria that the Government of Canada has been using for traditional media. These include ensuring that editorial content does not incite racial hatred, discrimination or the subversion of Canada’s democratic system of government.”

Boucher said that among the screened-out sites are those dealing with crime, death, tragedy, military conflict, “juvenile/gross/bizarre content,” profanity, rough language, sexually suggestive content, sensational and shocking content, gambling and sensitive social issues.

The in-house blacklist is an extra layer of “brand safety” supplementing the exclusion criteria that the Google Display Network and other ad services impose on their own distribution networks for all clients.

Governments should not ‘pick favourites’

An expert on political branding warns that governments too often focus on delivering messages directly to their political bases, and that advertising can be misused as a partisan tool.

Alex Marland, political science professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and author of Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control (2016). (Memorial University)

“Our governments should not be picking favourites,” said Memorial University of Newfoundland political scientist Alex Marland, author of last year’s Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control.

“And because of the choices of media, you can communicate information to some Canadians, and other Canadians are never contacted.”

Marland said the Liberal government needs to be clear on exactly how and why websites are put on a blacklist, based on public and transparent principles, and how those websites can get off the list.

Among other sometimes surprising inclusions on the blacklist: men’s magazine Maxim, lingerie seller La Vie en Rose, female-targeted blog Jezebel, the promotional site for erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, sports sites SB Nation and Barstool Sports, Auto Trader, India Times, Mayo Clinic.

Source: Federal advertising ‘blacklist’ of websites includes far-right outlets – Politics – CBC News

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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