Presidential campaign ads for both Donald Trump and Joe Biden ran on Youtube channels controlled by Russian state-backed media and white supremacists, according to a report published Tuesday.
The findings — from the Global Project against Hate and Extremism, a non-profit group — showed that Trump and Biden ads were displayed alongside videos from Ruptly, a Berlin-based media outlet controlled by the Kremlin, as well as on Youtube channels connected to the so-called Identitarian movement, a transatlantic group of white supremacists.
The ads allowed the Russian media outlet and white supremacist groups to pocket money from both campaigns as part of a Youtube program that allows content creators to earn money from ads running on their channels. It was impossible to verify how many Trump and Biden ads had run on these channels — Ruptly, for instance, has 1.3 million Youtube subscribers — or how much they had spent on those paid-for messages.
Neither campaign actively chose to have their ads run against Russian-backed or white supremacist content.
Instead, Youtube’s algorithms placed the campaigns’ political ads before videos from the Russian media outlet and white supremacist groups based on algorithms that automatically determine where such paid-for content should be shown, based on the demographics of Youtube views that individual advertisers want to target online.
The revelations come as advertisers question how they spend money on social media, with more than 400 companies, including Unilever, Coca-Cola and Ford, joining a boycott of Facebook because of the company’s handling of hate speech and misinformation. Google, which owns Youtube, has similarly faced a backlash after companies’ ads were shown alongside terrorist videos from ISIS.
On Ruptly’s Youtube channel, Google runs a disclaimer that highlights the Russian government controls the media outlet.
But before a video entitled “Austria: ‘We should send them back,’” a Trump ad asking people to rate the president’s actions, including a link to an online survey, was displayed, according to the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. Similarly, a Biden paid-for message ran alongside a Ruptly video called “Italy: Generazione Identitaria hosts second ‘sports day in defense of homeland.'” Both videos have been viewed less than 4,500 times.
The same two campaign ads were also displayed before a white supremacist video linked to France’s “Generation Identitaire,” a domestic far-right movement started in 2012 that has called for the removal of non-white French citizens from the country. The Youtube video, from late 2013, has been watched almost 80,000 times.
Heidi Beirich, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism’s chief strategy officer, said that several U.S and European security agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Department of Homeland Security and Europol, had flagged the white supremacist movement as potentially fomenting extremism and violence.
She added that Youtube must do more to flag such content and stop these channels from making money through online advertising.
“All these agencies say [the Identitarian movement] influences people to commit acts of terrorism,” she said. “There’s no reason Youtube is not acting.”
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