Of course Budweiser isn't the official beer of ISIS. But you would think that the fact that Budweiser ads were propped up next to ISIS recruiting videos on YouTube would outrage the iconic American brand. Instead, Budweiser's tepid response speaks volumes about why the Internet can still be a dangerous neighborhood.
"We have strict guidelines with our media partners that govern when and how our ads appear. We are working with YouTube and our media buying agency, Mediacom, to understand and rectify the matter," was Budweiser's response. Can't you just feel the "outrage"? Imagine if 70 years ago it turned out that Budweiser ads were prominent at a Nazi rally? Imagine the true outrage that would have sparked.
Instead, Budweiser promises to get to the bottom of this. And it just wasn't beer. Aveeno and Secret were also ads, with Jennifer Aniston prominently shown.
And Google' response was telling. "We also have stringent advertising guidelines, and work to prevent ads appearing against any video, channel or page once we determine that the content is not appropriate for our advertising partner," a spokesperson for YouTube said. You can just imagine how ISIS is laughing.
In the videos, ISIS creates a slick Grand Theft Auto type of look and feel to attract recruits. Think about that for a moment. ISIS masterfully uses U.S.-invented social media and popular websites to recruit soldiers to its cause. Google lets it happen. Budweiser and others unwittingly pay for it through ads.
And it's not just beer companies. For example, a video promoting ISIS included an advertisement from the New York City Police Department:
New York Police don't ask for their ads to run in a video like this. It's YouTube and its algorithms that randomly place these ads next to videos attracting audiences that are expected to be potential customers. It's scary to think why someone watching an ISIS video would be interested in the New York City Police.
And while Google has taken down some videos, others remain on YouTube helping ISIS recruit. The company has sophisticated systems that can monitor and track its content. For example, when a criminal offered to sell counterfeit passports on YouTube, Google's systems understood enough about the content to attach an "immigration lawyer" ad to the video - but Google claims it didn't have enough information to take it down in the first place.
That is the heart of the problem. Google doesn't want to take any responsibility for its platforms, because it sees that as a slippery slope. A group I lead, the Digital Citizens Alliance, which is supported by a range from groups and industries that feel they are victimized by Google's practices, has published numerous examples of how Google profits from ads on videos promoting criminal activity. It's especially troubling that these dangerous activities appear on YouYube, one of the most popular websites in the world and a favorite destination for teens and pre-teens.
In the meantime, Google goes about its business, claiming censorship and free speech whenever anyone has the temerity to question its practices. And ISIS supporters must be laughing at us, that we squabble while they can put videos on YouTube to recruit soldiers to fight against the American way of life.
Sooner or later, Google, Budweiser and others have to decide whose side it's on. The first step? Maybe just a little bit of outrage.