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During the past month, a large number of advertisers have rescinded their ads on multiple online outlets, due to reports from major news outlets such as the Times unearthing that many extremist or borderline pornographic videos featured ads from prominent brands. Last summer, Procter & Gamble announced that they would cut their entire digital advertisement budget of $100+ million (on a 2016 total advertisement budget of $7.2 billion, mind you) (Bruell & Terlep, 2017). The finance chief of P&G, Jon Moeller, attributed this decision to both the advertisements being ‘ineffective’ and to make sure to prevent the brand from being associated with ‘’bot’ traffic and objectionable content’ (Bruell & Terlep, 2017). Last week Unilever threatened to stop all digital advertisement on sites owned by Google and Facebook, as a response to the site being unable to stop videos harmful to children and videos with extremist views. Why is this important and why is Youtube to blame?
Google, the company that owns Youtube, largely depends on ads for its revenue. Of this revenue, a little over 16 Billion is reinvested into Research and Development, mainly in the (obvious) field of computer science. It also uses its earnings for philanthropy, such as the recent commitment to award $1 billion in grants to students (Google, 2017). The decrease of ad revenue and rising hesitance to advertise on Google-owned platforms may well sway Google to invest less in Research, Development and Philanthropy. Youtube, as the most well-known flagship of the Google corporation and their main platform to display ads, is not only responsible for a large part of Google’s ad revenue, but is also partially responsible for their reputation as a company and thereby their appeal to potential investors. This especially resounds in the advertisement and marketing department, as YouTube’s failure to get its content screening functioning properly has prompted companies to pull their ads off not only Youtube, but all Google services, and in some cases off the internet entirely. YouTube, as an example of a hugely successful online service, is responsible for the reputation of the internet as a whole.
Combine this with the recent reports of fake news and bot-spamming on Facebook possibly having influenced the American election and you have a perfect storm. Facebook has suffered severe backlash for letting, arguably, Russian-backed bots and ‘internet trolls’ influence people’s opinion about the American Presidential election on a large scale. They have also been accused of allowing fake news to spread and further dividing communities.
Large-scale online advertisement has also allowed many sites to operate on a costless basis, allowing many people to act on opportunities they otherwise might not have had. If ad revenues go down, sites must compensate in one way or another, possibly reintroducing long gone mechanics such as ‘pay-to-play’ or paywalls.
Computer science, like any field of research, needs a steady flow of money going into its development, or it will stagnate and start moving backwards. With the enormous advancements still to be made in areas such as computing power, neural networking and machine learning, we cannot allow the two main proponents of the rise of the free internet to go down in flames and take internet advertising and computer science development budgets with them.