Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & KATIE SULLIVAN
Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist radio host who is one of President Donald Trump’s media sycophants, appears to be monetizing his content as part of the YouTube Partner Program even though Infowars' content regularly violates the program’s policies and guidelines for advertising. Jones’ YouTube videos and other content feature extreme anti-LGBTQ and racist commentary, and Infowars promotes conspiracy theories that have encouraged harassment of families that lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre and led to a gunman firing shots in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.
The YouTube Partner Program allows content creators to “monetize content on YouTube in many ways, including advertisements, paid subscriptions, and merchandise,” as long as their content is “advertiser-friendly” and meets YouTube’s “community guidelines.” Google, which owns YouTube, recently changed its advertising policies after major European corporations and the British government raised concerns over their ads being placed next to extremist content. In response, Google wrote that it was “raising the bar for our ad policies” and that it would “tighten safeguards to ensure that ads show up only against legitimate creators in our YouTube Partner Program”:
We know advertisers don't want their ads next to content that doesn’t align with their values. So starting today, we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content. This includes removing ads more effectively from content that is attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender or similar categories. This change will enable us to take action, where appropriate, on a larger set of ads and sites.
We’ll also tighten safeguards to ensure that ads show up only against legitimate creators in our YouTube Partner Program—as opposed to those who impersonate other channels or violate our community guidelines. Finally, we won’t stop at taking down ads. The YouTube team is taking a hard look at our existing community guidelines to determine what content is allowed on the platform—not just what content can be monetized.
Google’s promise to better ensure that ads appear only alongside content of “legitimate creators in our YouTube Partner Program" indicates that Jones’ channel is a partner. An online post by the Houston Chronicle also explained that a YouTube partner can be identified by “look[ing] for advertisements on the user’s pages."
Jones’ videos, which often violate YouTube’s policies for its advertising partners, frequently appear with ads for brands such as Trivago, Playstation, and a corporation that is contracted by the state of Hawaii to promote tourism. These ads appear on a targeted, automated rotating system, so they may alternate or change.
On March 19, Jones claimed that his website “Infowars got knocked off of Google ads through AdRoll, their subsidiary company they work with.” AdRoll -- which is actually a Google competitor, though it does use some Google technology -- did in fact cut ties with Infowars, citing violations of its policies, which require that a website’s content be accurate and verifiable and that it not have “derogatory content” about a political candidate. But it appears that Google, through YouTube, has not taken any similar action.
YouTube’s Community Guidelines And Advertising Guidance Ban Threats And Harassment
YouTube’s community guidelines include banning content creators -- and not just their advertising -- for threats, including “harassment, intimidation, invading privacy, revealing other people's personal information, and inciting others to commit violent acts.” Infowars is no stranger to harassment and threats. In addition, YouTube’s content guidelines, which apply to pages hosting advertisements, say that videos with “inappropriate language, including harassment, profanity and vulgar language” are “inappropriate for advertising.” Jones, including on his YouTube page, regularly makes vulgar and harassing comments, and his role in spreading conspiracy theories has helped incite others to commit threatening and violent acts.
Jones played a crucial role in pushing the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy, which claimed that a Washington, D.C., pizzeria hid a pedophilia ring run by prominent Democratic politicians. Jones told his audience members in late November that they “have to go investigate" the conspiracy theory for themselves. Days later, a Jones listener fired his gun inside the pizzeria. After that incident, Jones scrubbed Pizzagate-related content from his YouTube page and elsewhere. In February, Jones uploaded a new video breaking down the “PizzaGate pedophile cult,” months after the shooting incident; an ad for LinkedIn appeared next to that video on March 23. On March 24, Jones apologized to the pizzeria and its owner for his attacks on them. An advertisement for TBS’ late night talk show Conan appeared before the video on March 27.
Jones also relentlessly pushed conspiracies about the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 children and six adults were murdered during a shooting at an elementary school. Jones has attacked the families of the victims as “actors” who helped pull off a “hoax,” and family members have said that they have repeatedly faced harassment and threats and have criticized Jones for his smears. On March 23, an advertisement for FedEx appeared on a video exploring “false narratives vs. the reality” of Sandy Hook, and an ad for PNC showed up on another video alleging that Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Wolfgang Halbig was “stonewalled and threatened” as he investigated the massacre.
Jones has made other threatening and violent comments. In a now-deleted YouTube video, Jones told conservative Washington Post columnist George Will to “put a .357 Magnum to your head, and blow what little is left of your brains out all over yourself.” Jones also asserted that Will is a “constitutional rapist” who is “literally mounting America, raping it in the ass, and telling us how great he is.”
Jones also recently challenged actor Alec Baldwin to a “bare knuckle” fight, saying, “I will break your jaw, I will knock your teeth out, I will break your nose, and I will break your neck.” During the 2016 Democratic primary, Jones suggested that supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) needed to have their "jaws broken" and their "moron heads" slapped (following criticism, Jones claimed he was speaking only “figuratively” about breaking their jaws).
YouTube Already Pulled A High-Profile User From Its Advertising Platform For Content Violating The Guidance On “Controversial Or Sensitive Subjects”
YouTube’s advertising guidelines also note that content “is considered inappropriate for advertising” when it includes “controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown.”
Jones has made his name weighing in on controversial subjects and spreading conspiracy theories. He is an ardent 9/11 truther who calls the attacks an “inside job.” He has also spread conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing, Boston Marathon bombing, a number of mass shootings, and vaccinations. A Google AdChoices advertisement appeared next to a video calling 9/11 a “false flag”
Jones has also made numerous disparaging comments about LGBTQ people. After more than 40 people were killed at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, FL, Jones charged “the LGBT community in general with endangering America and with the blood of these 50-plus innocent men and women.” Many of Jones’ comments about the attack were uploaded to his YouTube channel. Jones also once claimed that the U.S. government is trying to “encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children,” adding that being gay is a “destructive lifestyle.” A static in-video advertisement and, separately, an advertisement for Wix.com appeared in a March 16 YouTube video on Jones’ page during which Infowars guest host Anthony Cumia mocked a 15-year-old transgender girl and compared her decision to transition to children deciding they want “to be a dinosaur.”
A sponsored Funny or Die video appeared before one of Jones’ YouTube videos in which he lamented the introduction of an autistic muppet to Sesame Street and pushed the dangerous, debunked myth that vaccines cause autism by claiming “it burns out their pancreas. It burns out their brain.” The video and the video’s summary asserted that the character’s inclusion was “an effort to normalize the epidemic of childhood mental disorders.”
Jones also frequently makes controversial comments on race and gender, such as when he went on a racist rant against former President Barack Obama on his YouTube channel, saying he was “elected on affirmative action” and “ain’t black, in my opinion.” Jones also accused Obama of having “some big old donkey dick hard-on.”
Jones has made other vulgar comments about politicians and their families, particularly about women. These statements include calling Obama’s mother a “sex operative” for the CIA on his radio show and calling Hillary Clinton a “lying whore” on his YouTube channel. He has also said that Chelsea Clinton looks like Mister Ed the Horse and made numerous other sexist comments about women and their looks.
Removing Jones’ channel from the YouTube Partner Program would hardly be unprecedented. The Independent reported in February that YouTube removed user “PewDiePie from its advertising platform after anti-Semitic videos were posted to his account.” PewDiePie has more than 53 million subscribers and has been called “by far YouTube’s biggest star.” The report noted that the videos could no longer “be monetised because they are in violation of YouTube’s ‘advertiser-friendly content guidelines’, which are stricter than the normal guidelines.” The report added that YouTube’s community guidelines “include restrictions on hate speech”:
The videos are no longer allowed to be monetised because they are in violation of YouTube's "advertiser-friendly content guidelines", which are stricter than the normal guidelines and require that people cannot feature "controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown".
But they are still available to view on the site, where they were posted in January.
Google requires that all videos uploaded to the site comply with its community guidelines, which include restrictions on hate speech. The guidelines specifically note that YouTube will consider the "intent of the uploader", and that videos may stay online if they are "intended to be humorous or satirical", "even if offensive or in poor taste".
It would appear to be consistent with YouTube’s existing policies to pull advertising from Jones’ videos. If YouTube fails to take action, advertisers can request to have their ads removed from videos appearing on Jones’ channel; Google has pledged to implement “account-level controls to make it easier for advertisers to exclude specific sites and channels.”