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The activists who left Steve Bannon’s website without ads are now going for Fox News | Technology

BreitbartNews it was a key piece of the disinformation machinery that brought Donald Trump to the Oval Office. The extreme right wing Founded by Steve Bannon, Trump’s star adviser in his presidential career and later White House chief strategist until his dismissal in 2017, it spread anti-Semitic attacks against its rivals, gave wings to the Mexico wall project and took iron away from nationalist demonstrations. white of the MAGA movement (acronym for Make America Great Again) and its homophobic character.

As soon as Trump won the elections, the consultant Nandini Jammi and the publicist Matt Rivitz, well aware of the ins and outs of the digital advertising market, decided that they had to do something to stop the spread of content that is harmful to society. thus was born the sleeping giants campaign. They anonymously contacted the companies that advertised on Breitbart to remind them that their brands were displayed on a website that incited hatred and promoted violence.

They also decided to call the digital advertising intermediaries, or ad exchanges, which fed advertisements to Bannon’s website. They exposed the type of content that was published on the portal and showed them that it violated their hiring policy by promoting hate, something that is strictly prohibited in the terms and conditions of these platforms. One after another they ceased to provide their services to Breitbart. The ad exchanges, such as Google Ad Exchange, OpenX or App Nexus, are technology companies that mediate between advertisers and content publishers to place personalized advertising. They are the main gateway to digital advertising for any website that, like the media, is interested in having this source of income.

“In 2017, Sleeping Giants took 90% of the revenue from Breitbart planned for that year: eight million dollars in advertising, according to Bannon himself. That was possible because 31 of the 34 ad exchanges they dropped out, and with them 4,000 advertisers. But we believe that there is a lot of work to be done, ”explains Claire Atkin by video call.

The 34-year-old Canadian has teamed up with Jammi to double down. Now they go for a bigger fish: FoxNews.com, the website of the popular television network. And this time they do it with their faces uncovered and without Rivitz, with whom Jammi had a disagreement. They just released the Check My Ads campaign, with which they intend to dry up the media giant from publicity. “Fox is the biggest defender of the Big Lie,” says Atkin about the accusations of electoral fraud made by Trump after not being re-elected. “He is also the largest publisher of election disinformation and one of the most dangerous political violence outlets in the US They have lied about the election and defended the insurrection when it happened. It is not something we have to prove: everyone knows it, ”he maintains.

In the two weeks that followed the 2020 elections, the network raised doubts about the legality of the elections or gave credence to conspiracy theories on at least 774 occasions, according to Media Matters for America organization. This week it has become known that Fox Corp, the parent company of Fox News, is facing, together with One America News Network (OAN) and Newsmax, a lawsuit worth about 1,600 million dollars, as reported Guardian. The lawsuit has been filed by Dominion Voting Systems, the company that operates voting machines in 28 states in the country and has decided to act against accusations of fraud.

Launched at the beginning of June, the Check My Ads campaign received in one week the support of more than 40,000 people who have already sent complaints to advertisers from their personal emails and to 12 ad exchanges on which the Fox rests. Atkin and Nandini are aware that the Fox is an ocean liner compared to the boat Breitbart or the websites of characters like Charlie Kirk, Glenn Beck, Dan Bongino, who also left without ads with the same method. “When you are an advertising medium you need three things: legitimacy, money and data to improve your connection with the audience. The ads provide legitimacy, they tell the consumer that they are in a serious medium in which to consume news. Without ads, Fox News is nothing,” Atkin stresses.

Before launching the campaign, they spoke with some consumer brands that saw the initiative with good eyes. “Companies seek stability to do business. We do not want to veto opinions, but to curtail extremism that is becoming so popular and so dangerous for our society,” says Atkin. It is estimated that big brands spend about 2.6 billion dollars a year to finance (voluntarily or involuntarily) disinformation, according to a study by NewsGuard and Comscore.

an automated industry

To the websites that want to have banner of advertising it is convenient for them to contact one or more ad exchanges, key players in the so-called targeted or programmatic advertising. These companies manage ad inventory and determine prices in real time. “When a user enters a web page, while it is loading, the ad servers (ad servers) call the sales platforms (SSP) and notify them that there is an advertising space to fill”, explains Mikel Lekaroz, president of IAB Spain, a subsidiary of the largest business association in the world of the advertising industry. “They basically provide three pieces of information: for example, that it is a Spanish IP, that the website in question is the Technology section of EL PAÍS and that the available space is X in size. Then an automatic auction takes place and the advertiser who wins the bid is the one who instantly displays their advertising on that device”. The entire process is completed in a few milliseconds.

The key to the business is that, in addition to the IP, the information provided by the calls comes into play in the auction of Internet users’ attention cookies of third parties. These trackers allow you to scrutinize the user’s browsing history, so that you can fine-tune the segmentation of the public. If an Internet user has visited a Samsung website before entering elpais.com, Samsung will have reasons to bid high to appear on that user’s screen.

The ad exchanges They guarantee advertisers massive audiences and that their advertising will appear on user devices that are relevant to their business. On the other hand, the websites that seek advertising income obtain through them access to hundreds or thousands of advertisers without having to negotiate directly with them. All under the premise that, at least in theory, an Internet user is more likely to notice an advertisement that interests him than another that does not catch his attention.

Two demonstrators protest outside the News Corp building, the group founded by tycoon Rupert Murdoch.Erik McGregor (LightRocket via Getty Images)

Google, which along with Facebook dominates the global digital advertising market, has its own ad exchange. But there are many more. The market is large and the industry is opaque. “There is a term in the trade called unknown delta which goes on record that 15% of most campaigns fizzle out, you don’t know where it goes. The ad exchanges they tell advertisers that it is not in the contract that they can see where those funds go”, illustrates Atkin.

The sophistication of the digital advertising market has meant that, on occasions, the brands themselves cannot control 100% where their ads appear. “After studying well how it works, we learned that advertisers did not have the power to properly review their ads. We are marketinians and in our agency we do that work”, emphasizes the Canadian.

Therefore, the ad exchanges They have black lists of websites that they do not operate on. Those with pornographic content are a classic example. The intention of Atkin and Jammi is to include in this group the portals that promote xenophobia, violence or the overthrow of institutions. “We really limit ourselves to crossing the publication policy of the ad exchanges, in which it is almost always specified that websites that promote hate or violence will be avoided, with the websites that we see that violate those conditions. And since the information we provide them is final, they usually withdraw in about 24 hours, ”says Atkin.

The standards of each ad exchange vary. “The main ones do not work with pornographic content or content that incites violence. Neither with those generators of hatred, who advocate drugs or who favor the use of weapons”, illustrates Jorge Martínez, editorial manager of Outbrain Spain. Google, for exampleadds to the above that it does not serve ads on websites that publish information that is “demonstrably false” or that “harms participation or confidence in an electoral or democratic process.”

the spanish connection

The Check My Ads model has already jumped the Atlantic. The cultural association És País Valencià has contacted several advertisers who display advertising on the portal Digital Mediterranean and they have been asked if they are aware that their brand appears on a website that incites hatred. At the moment, companies such as Ikea, Banco Santander, Carrefour, Volkswagen or Seat have decided to remove their ads from there. Some have also done the same. ad exchangessuch as Taboola, Outbrain, The Moneytizer, Dailymotion and 33Across, taking hundreds of potential advertisers with them.

“They must be having a bad time, because they have already started a discrediting campaign against me,” explains Kilian Cuerda, co-founder of the association. Since Cuerda and his companions set up the group a year ago, they were clear that one of their points of action would be to combat the dissemination of content that promotes hate. “We start with Digital Mediterranean because, in my opinion, it is especially disgusting. Since advertisers have been withdrawing and ad exchanges We have seen how some headlines of their pieces have changed at full speed to soften them, ”explains the activist.

Cuerda and his colleagues have been in contact with Jammi and Atkin, who gave them training to launch their campaign. Interestingly, it is not the first time that the founders of Check My Ads have come across the aforementioned Spanish website. Jammi got in touch on her day with the Twitter user Cristina Hernández to congratulate her on the success of her initiative.

This sociologist posted on the aforementioned social network a comment on a piece published in Digital Mediterranean titled “Why are feminists uglier than normal women?”. More specifically, he urged Toyota, Nissan and Línea Directa to stop advertising on the aforementioned website. It worked. Later he continued with BBVA, which also agreed.

“It was a totally spontaneous initiative, it had no action plan behind it,” recalls Hernández. The success of her tweets unleashed a campaign of anonymous threats against her and the filing of a lawsuit by the web. Two years later, the judge agreed with her.

Cuerda also begins to feel pressure. Digital Mediterranean He has personally pointed him out on networks and has published a piece in which he ensures that he “indoctrinates his students” at the institute where he works. “We will keep going. And after this campaign it is possible that we do the same with other websites, such as State of Alarm”, points out the Valencian.

“It’s important to draw a line and say enough is enough,” says Atkin. “There are limits that should not be exceeded. If the ad exchanges They assure that they are not going to send advertisements to the websites that promote violence, why do they do it? That must end.”

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– Article Written By @Manu González Pascual from https://elpais.com/tecnologia/2022-07-09/las-activistas-que-dejaron-sin-anuncios-a-la-web-de-steve-bannon-van-ahora-a-por-fox-news.html

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