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Advertisements from more than 300 companies, including such top brands as Adidas, Facebook, Hershey and Under Armour, have run on extremist YouTube channels promoting conspiracy theories, white nationalism, pedophilia and other unsavory content, according a new investigation from CNN.
The report, published Thursday afternoon, also reveals that five U.S. government agencies also had advertisements that appeared on the channels. When CNN reached out to the companies in the investigation, many responded that they had used YouTube filters to exclude sensitive content. They told CNN they had not known that their ads had been placed on those channels. Under Armour said that it was pausing its spending on Google-owned YouTube while it works with the company to “understand how this could have slipped through the guardrails.”
The report comes after a rocky year for the relationship between YouTube and its advertisers. Last year, several advertisers pulled their budgets from YouTube after their ads were found alongside hateful and exploitative videos, including from top YouTuber PewDiePie, who came under fire for a series of anti-Semitic jokes. YouTube introduced new settings designed to provide greater control to advertisers over where their spots run. And in December, CEO Susan Wojcicki said YouTube would grow its trust and safety teams to more than 10,000 in 2018 to help it crack down on channels that post content that violates its terms of service.
But there have continued to be high-profile incidents of the YouTube algorithm not catching inappropriate content. Earlier this year, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Network pulled ads from YouTube after they appeared on the channel belonging to right-wing commentator Alex Jones, who is known for spreading conspiracy theories. CNN reports that Fox film ads also streamed alongside a Nazi YouTube channel before it was taken down. A co-branded ad from Disney and Nissan also ran on the channel.
“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,” a YouTube spokeswoman told CNN in a statement.
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