Medibank, Bupa and Optus called out for ads on 'hate speech' site

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 11 September 2017

Ad placement vigilante group Sleeping Giants has launched an Australian Twitter account to call out local businesses whose ads appear on far-right news site Breitbart.

Breitbart gained prominence as a mouthpiece for many supporters of the US President Donald Trump ahead of last year’s election.

The Twitter account has already named and shamed Woolworths, Medibank, Optus, Bupa, TPG, Bendigo Bank and Domain Group, urging them to remove their ads from “racist” and “sexist” content. 

A Woolworths spokesperson tells AdNews the ad is not directly for Woolworths, rather one of the brands it stocks. However its logo appears on the site.

"We can confirm this is not a Woolworths placement and that it is an ad bought by a supplier using our logo. We have strict advertising practices in place to avoid our ads appearing alongside inappropriate content and we're investigating this further," Woolworths says.

An Optus spokesperson told AdNews the company "does not support the placement of our advertising alongside harmful or inappropriate material" and as a result have removed its ads.

A quick search on Breitbart reveals ads from Advantage Pet Care, HIF Health Insurance, Paramount Motor Compensation, marketing company Bonfire, influencer platform Tribe and industry body ADMA, are still running on the site.

Sleeping Giants is also keeping an eye out for hate speech in Australia’s mainstream media in an attempt to deny advertising revenue to those publishers.

Its mission statement on Twitter reads: “We are trying to stop racist and sexist media by stopping its ad dollars. Many companies don't even know it’s happening. It's time to tell them.”

In June, The Washington Post reported that Breitbart had lost 90% of its advertisers in just two months. Amazon was the focus of protests and petitions as it remained a major advertiser on the site.

The reminder of the dangers of programmatic advertising comes several months after dozens of brands globally halted advertising on YouTube after it was revealed ads were being placed next to extremist content.

At the time, Google assured advertisers it was overhauling its policies and introducing new measures to ensure brand safety.

However, as one advertiser pointed out, the placements on Breitbart are a result of behavioural targeting and therefore controlled by Google.

A Google spokesperson commented: "Our policies govern where Google ads can be placed in order to ​protect users from harmful​, misleading​ or inappropriate content. We don’t comment on individual sites but we enforce these​ policies ​​vigorously and regularly review sites to ensure compliance."

The original Sleeping Giants account was set up in late 2016 and has 109,000 followers on Twitter and 34,200 on Facebook. Globally the group has less than 200,000 followers and the Sleeping Giants Australia account has just 520 followers since launching in August.

Since Sleeping Giants began its campaign against Breitbart, more than 2500 advertisers have stopped advertising on the right-wing site. While the group can’t take full responsibility for the boycott, Australian businesses have already agreed to remove their ads.

This morning Sleeping Giant’s tweeted News Corp’s controversial columnist Miranda Devine after she shared a video of a woman wearing a Niqab struggling to eat pasta saying: “Miranda Devine stoops to new low as she reposts video designed to humiliate women.”

AdNews is awaiting comment from Google.

Here's how some of the brands responded: 

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