Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter uncovering how adtech companies fund hate and disinformation. Here's what's new with us:
One year ago, we told you that we are going to dismantle the disinformation economy. But we never told you what we meant by “we.”
Sure, there’s we at Check My Ads. We watch the pipelines of the $700B advertising supply chain and alert advertising clients to its business ties to extremism.
Then there’s those who work in marketing, who are pushing for accountability from the inside, checking campaigns, and contacting adtech vendors.
And then there are those of you who reach out to adtech companies with us, retweet and share our investigations, and do your part to stand up against extremism in your own communities.
Over the past year, together we have built the adtech industry’s living nightmare: a system of accountability. We have become a global force. We are independent, and we are effective.
We built Check My Ads on the knowledge that the adtech industry is a knowing accomplice to the disinformation economy. For this reason, we don’t negotiate. We simply hold them accountable, using information that is often embarrassingly easy to find.
If you follow us on Twitter you are truly watching us work in real-time. And if you've ever shared our posts or written an email with us, you have been an integral part of this year's success. You know the global disinformation crisis is an advertising problem — and there is nothing advertisers care about more than what you think.
In our final BRANDED of the year, we’re taking a look at what one year of Check My Ads has done to the world, and what to expect in 2023.
Phew! We took millions of dollars out of the disinformation economy — and pissed off all the right people. Here's a look back at a year full of wins.
CONFIRMED: Playwire (ad network) dropped CharlieKirk(.)com (January 26, 2022)
CONFIRMED: YouTube permanently banned Dan Bongino (January 26, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Bongino.com was dropped by Google Ads (January 28, 2022)
CONFIRMED: BonginoReport.com dropped itself (???) from Google Ads (January 28, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Freestar dropped TimCast.com (Tim Pool’s website) (January 31, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Basis Technologies (adtech company) blocked Charlie Kirk PLUS all of Salem News Group from its inventory (February 10, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Basis Technologies blocked Dan Bongino (February 11, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Mediamath blocked Bongino.com (February 15, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Quantcast blocked Glenn Beck's The Blaze (February 16, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Yahoo Ads blocked The Blaze (February 17, 2022)
CONFIRMED: OpenX dropped Glenn Beck's The Blaze (February 22, 2022)
CONFIRMED: YouTube demonetized RT(.)com, and other Russian state media (February 26, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Taboola dropped RT(.)com (February 26, 2022)
CONFIRMED: PubMatic removed Topple (a firearms-focused ad network) from its inventory (March 1, 2022)
CONFIRMED: TripleLift (ad exchange) dropped Townhall, Salem Media Group's propaganda ring, from its inventory (March 2, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Freewheel (a Comcast-owned adtech company) dropped Real America's Voice (Steve Bannon's channel) from its inventory (March 28, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Media.Net (ad exchange) blocked Real America's Voice, home to Steve Bannon (April 5, 2022)
CONFIRMED: OpenWeb (ad exchange) dropped RT.com from its inventory (April 12, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Yahoo dropped Performance One Media from its inventory (April 18, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Unruly (ad network) dropped Performance One Media, the company behind Steve Bannon's War Room, from its inventory (April 22, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Playwire removed Shawnee Digital LLC, the company behind CharlieKirk.com, HumanEvents.com, and Hannity.com, from its inventory (May 4, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Yahoo dropped The Post Millennial, Human Events, and Whoa Canada from its inventory (May 9, 2022)
CONFIRMED: LiveIntent disabled The Post Millennial’s advertising account (May 13, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Adtelligent (ad network) dropped Performance One Media from its inventory (May 13, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Google dropped Populist Press, a Bannon-affiliated website, from its inventory (May 20, 2022)
CONFIRMED: PixFuture (ad network) dropped Performance One Media from its inventory (May 9, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Lemma Technologies dropped Bannon’s Real America’s Voice and Weather Nation from its inventory (May 24, 2022)
CONFIRMED: TripleLift dropped Liftable Media, the company behind The Gateway Pundit, from its inventory (June 6, 2022)
CONFIRMED: TripleLift dropped The Gateway Pundit (again) (June 20, 2022)
CONFIRMED: The Moneytizer (ad network) dropped Spanish hate site Mediterraneo Digital from its inventory (June 23, 2022)
CONFIRMED: SpotX dropped The Post Millennial from its inventory (June 29, 2022)
CONFIRMED: 33Across blocked Spanish hate site Mediterraneo Digital from inventory thanks to Spanish activist group És Pais Valencià (July 7, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Rise (adtech company) dropped The Post Millennial from its inventory (July 8, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Criteo (ad retargeting) dropped Brazilian disinformation site Metropoles from its inventory (July 15, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Newsguard (media credibility ratings company) downgraded Fox News to “untrustworthy” (July 15, 2022)
CONFIRMED: MGID (a Taboola competitor) dropped The Post Millennial from its inventory (August 4, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Taboola blocked OANN from its inventory (August 8, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Edmunds (a Carmax company) blocked its ads from disinformation outlet American Pigeon (August 25, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Royal Bank of Canada blocked Real America’s Voice from its media buy (September 12, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Etsy blocked Real America’s Voice from its media buy (September 14, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Etsy blocked Real America's Voice (again) (September 14, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Audi blocked Real America’s Voice from its media buy (September 16, 2022)
CONFIRMED: BMW blocked Real America’s Voice from its media buy (September 23 2022)
CONFIRMED: LG TV removed Russia Today, NewsFront (U.S.-sanctioned!) and Russian American News from their content store (October 5, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Nissan blocked Bannon’s Real America’s Voice from its media buy (September 23, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Procter & Gamble dropped WeatherNation TV, a front for Steve Bannon (October 12, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Coinbase ended its affiliate partnership with Seb Gorka (November 11, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Mailerlite (email marketing software) dropped Seb Gorka (November 11, 2022)
CONFIRMED: Krush Media (ad network) dropped Real America's Voice, Pursuit Channel, and OANN from its inventory (November 15, 2022)
CONFIRMED: NoBid.io dropped white nationalist Darren Beattie's Revolver News from its inventory (December 6, 2022)
CONFIRMED: FlowCode (QR code platform) dropped Infowars (December 22, 2022)
This newsletter is the foundation of our work here at Check My Ads. This year, our investigations brought sweeping changes to the ad industry's norms and practices.
Amazingly, even after the attempted coup, the adtech industry continued to quietly serve the people who started it.
In January, we set out to change that. We launched our first campaign, Defund The Insurrectionists, to help set a much-needed precedent: that no one who promoted, organized, or incited the insurrection should ever see another ad dollar.
Nearly 2,000 of you joined us in reaching out to adtech executives — and we succeeded in big ways. Tim Pool, Steve Bannon, Glenn Beck, Charlie Kirk, and Dan Bongino lost some to all of their ad partners. (See the full list here under the "Updates" tab.)
The campaign’s big surprise moment came from Basis Technologies CEO Shawn Riegsecker, who personally wrote back to our followers and raised the stakes: he announced the company would be blocking both CharlieKirk.com and its powerful parent company Salem Media Group from its inventory.
Here’s our plan to defund the insurrectionists (Jan 5, 2022)
Hell yes. 👏🏼 Total game-changer.
For years, ad exchanges have been blocking individual domains from their inventory, but letting the operators keep their seller accounts. This has effectively allowed the companies to remain plugged into the adtech supply chain and continue earning revenues on all the other websites they run.
This year, we asserted that brand safety is about cutting off the flow of money to disinformation outlets — and the only way to do that is by removing the seller accounts.
They listened. This year, ad exchanges began removing Shawnee Digital LLC (the seller account behind CharlieKirk.com) and Performance One Media LLC (the seller account behind Bannon's War Room) as a result of our BRANDED investigations.
How big an impact has this had on them? The ad industry is so opaque that we can only guess. But judging by the fact that Bannon has been coyly talking about us on War Room this month and white nationalist Darren Beattie has been photoshopping our face onto The Grinch, we know the impact has been felt.
We launched an ambitious effort built on the success of our Defund The Insurrectionists campaign. If the others are toxic, why does Fox get a free pass?
This campaign was different from our previous work. Not a single ad exchange replied or budged.
However, one interesting thing did happen: media ratings company NewsGuard downgraded Fox News after we called attention to the fact that they had neglected to factor in Fox's role in promoting election disinformation.
Fox News is powerful because it’s built on a solid foundation of media, tech, and advertising relationships. But there are ways to crack that base. We have plans to continue this work next year.
We’re ready to break the Fox News machine (June 9, 2022)
How NewsGuard boosts the American disinformation economy (August 11, 2022)
When you run a Google Ads campaign, Google distributes your ad spend across millions of websites around the world. But most of the time, they won’t let you see who. No names, no corporate contacts, nothing. That’s because Google marks 9 out of 10 seller accounts in its inventory — the largest in the world — as confidential.
Google Ads is a $200B/year business. This makes it the largest dark money transfer in the world and a full-blown national security crisis.
The fight against disinformation may be contentious, but there is no debate here. Advertisers should be able to know who they're doing business with. We look forward to continuing to brief lawmakers on this issue next year.
We knew something was up when Steve Bannon bragged to The Atlantic that War Room was a “cash machine” and that he’d added another hour to “accommodate all of his sponsors.” Did these sponsors… know they were his sponsors?
Between alerting advertisers and getting ad exchanges to drop parent company Performance One Media, Bannon’s business has taken a serious nosedive.
We’re still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to streaming (or CTV, as the ad industry calls it), the hot new place where advertisers are once again being scammed. We will certainly be watching a lot more TV in 2023.
Imagine selling the location data of people who visit Planned Parenthood clinics to anyone with a credit card — and not thinking it would get you in trouble.
SafeGraph was doing exactly that. And when the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade leaked, we had to act fast.
CEO Auren Hoffman tried to spin the details, but quickly realized that the story was out of his control.
Within one day:
This summer, we saw something odd in media ratings company NewsGuard’s score for Fox News: They had fully left out Fox's role in promoting the J6 insurrection and had awarded the outlet a "Green — Trustworthy" rating.
One month after we pointed this out, NewsGuard updated their report and downgraded Fox News to Red – “Proceed with Caution.” They insisted it was part of a routine update. Of course. Totally.
On a Friday afternoon in September, Nissan told us they were going to keep running their ads on Bannon's War Room. We said OK and logged off for the weekend. Very few advertisers choose to do this, but once in a while one comes along and bucks the trend. It's their choice!
Then, on Saturday night, a friend texted us a screenshot of #BoycottNissan trending nationwide.
On Sunday morning, Nissan tweeted at us one more time: they had fired their ad agency and were taking their ads off War Room.
Amazing team effort, no notes.
Dan Bongino tried to call us crazy cat lady, antifa lovers, child predators, and antisemitic. How did that work out for him?
In January, Google joined the half a dozen ad exchanges that had already blocked him: First, YouTube permanently suspended Bongino from the platform. Then Google Ads removed one of his websites from its inventory. Finally, Bongino claimed he blocked himself from Google Ads.
This year, we traced one of the biggest threats to global democracy directly back to the industry's own poorly worded problem statement.
How do we keep our ads from running on disinformation & hate sites?
Advertisers have spent the last few years solving for Problem A, which has led them down a useless path of blocklists and brand safety algorithms.
While the ad industry has distracted itself with what amounts to some very expensive voodoo dolls, the bad guys have been building lucrative and sustainable disinformation networks using the pipelines of the adtech supply chain.
The real problem has always been Problem B.
How do we keep our ad budgets from flowing towards organizations that promote hate and disinformation?
This year, the ad industry reached an inflection point. And what happens next comes down to us.
In 2024, democracy itself will be on the ballot. 2.4 billion people around the world will head to the voting booths, including citizens of India, Indonesia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Over the next year, disinformation and propaganda operatives will be doing their damnedest to subvert our democratic elections by any means necessary. It's going to be a media bonanza.
“I think we’re in the last two minutes of democracy. I used to play basketball. If you play basketball, the last two minutes is everything. And we’re losing the game. Unless something drastic changes, 2024 will be the year where democracy falls off the cliff.” — Maria Ressa, Nobel peace laureate
Maria Ressa has seen how disinformation can erode a country first hand. But now, we have the playbook to fight back.
This year, consider stepping into this fight by becoming a Checkmate, a monthly sustaining member of Check My Ads Institute.
Happy New Year! See you in January.
Claire and Nandini