Google employees considered banning far-right news outlet Breitbart from Google AdSense on ‘moral’ grounds – which would have stopped it taking in advertising revenue, internal leaked emails reveal.
Employees expressed concerns in February 2017 about ‘hate speech’ and ‘fake news’ appearing on Breitbart – a commentary website founded in 2007 which became closely associated with .
They urged other staff to squash its revenue by blocking it from AdSense, Google’s advertising program which dominates the digital advert market.
Breitbart published the internal emails – dated from the month after President Trump took office – yesterday alleging that Google was ‘plotting the downfall of this website’, although in the event Google never went through with the ban.
Leaked emails from Google employees show that they considered banning far right news outlet Breitbart from Google AdSense
In February 2017, Google employee Richard Zippel emailed a colleague, David Richter, to say he would act against Breitbart News only if numerous examples of hate speech were found on the site.
‘When sufficient violations have been found we’ll take action at the site level,’ Zippel wrote.
Afterwards, Richter emailed other employees asking if anyone would scour Breitbart for evidence of hate speech.
In the subsequent email chain, Jim Gray – Google’s Director of monetization said that Breitbart was being monitored ‘since the origin[al] fake news kick-off discussion.’
Google CEO Sundar Pichai arrives to testify before the House Judiciary Committee to be questioned about the internet giant’s privacy security and data collection, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018
Breitbart has previously published conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with many of its ideologically-driven stories having been discredited as false or intentionally misleading.
Google’s Head of Americas GMP Partner Technical Services, Jeff Lakusta, replied to the email chain telling his colleagues that would be ‘tough’ to prove Breitbart is hate speech.
A member of the legal team for AdSense, Emily Garber, later wrote that ‘Our Trust and Safety team is evaluating [Breitbart] to determine its policy compliance’.
Ryan Garza, another Google employee, highlighted a boycott campaign against Breitbart which was urging advertisers to remove their business from the site, and said ‘818’ companies had done so.
Among the big names which had by then said that they would not advertise on the site were Kellogg’s.
‘There is obviously a moral argument to be made as well as a business case. We don’t want to be behind the curve…’ he wrote.
Still to date, Google has not removed Breitbart from AdSense.
A Google spokesperson said: ‘We have extensive and very well publicized policies for publishers who choose to monetize with Google ads.
An empty chair reserved for Google, which refused to send its top executive, as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in September
‘We enforce these policies vigorously, consistently and without any political bias. We regularly and routinely review sites in our ad network to ensure compliance with our policies. ‘
‘These emails from early 2017 simply show the AdSense team explaining that such a periodic review was underway.’
Google CEO Sundar Pichai is testifying today before the House Judiciary Committee, in part to answer questions on perceived political bias at Google.
Pichai agreed in September to testify over Republican concerns that the company is biased against conservatives. Google has repeatedly denied this.
In written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee made public on Monday, CEO Sundar Pichai said he led the company ‘without political bias.’
‘We work hard to ensure the integrity of our products, and we´ve put a number of checks and balances in place to ensure they continue to live up to our standards,’ Pichai’s testimony said.
‘I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.’