AppNexus, a leading advertising technology company, says it has banned the conservative website Breitbart News from using its ad tools, according to a report from Bloomberg. The reason, according to a company spokesperson, is Breitbart’s violation of AppNexus’ hate speech rules. "We did a human audit of Breitbart and determined there were enough articles and headlines that cross that line, using either coded or overt language," AppNexus spokesman Joshua Zeitz told Bloomberg in an interview.
The decision comes one week after President-elect Donald Trump tapped former Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon to be his White House chief strategist. The move has been widely condemned by both Democrats and Republicans because of Bannon’s ties to racist, anti-Semetic, and Islamaphobic movements. AppNexus makes clear it views Breitbart in much the same way. "We would ban this as quickly as a site that has pornography and violence," Zeitz added. Automated ad networks often ban hate speech because buyers don’t want their products popping up next to incendiary or controversial headlines.
Breitbart is well-known for hosting the controversial opinions of right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who serves as its tech editor and has penned such headlines as “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and “Would you rather your child have feminism or cancer?” Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter in July after participating in an online harassment campaign against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. And under Bannon’s leadership, the site has become a breeding ground for white nationalists, who have flocked to Breitbart News’ antagonistic coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement and its efforts to paint all Muslim immigrants as potential terrorists.
It’s unclear how substantial of an effect AppNexus’ ban will have on Breitbart’s ability to make money. The news site has grown from 12 million to 19 million unique monthly visitors since October 2015, largely due to the rise of Trump and his direct and indirect appeals to racism. Today, Trump, in a conversation with members of The New York Times, referred to Breitbart as just another news publication that he characterized as “much more conservative” than The Times. So with Trump’s tacit approval of the site’s content and editorial approach, Breitbart may contain to balloon in size and popularity, rendering AppNexus’ ban irrelevant.
However, AppNexus was the second-highest grossing automated ad network for news publishers in 2014 — behind only Google. It generated $2.1 billion in revenue and paid out $1.9 billion to publishers, according to analyst firm Cowen & Co. For now, Bloomberg says the ban could lower the price of ads on Breitbart by reducing supply. (It’s also worth noting that AppNexus is gearing up for an IPO, so this move could be a way to generate buzz.)
Still, the ban marks an escalation in the fight against hate-fueled and fake news used to misinform readers and confirm deep-seated biases. Both Google and Facebook announced last week that fake news sites would be banned from using the companies’ ad tools. The two tech giants also have policies against hate speech, however they have not gone so far as to characterize Breitbart or other conservative blogs as such.
In a statement obtained by Bloomberg, Breitbart News Network CEO Larry Solov said his company "has always and continues to condemn racism and bigotry in any form."
Update November 22nd, 6:33PM ET: Added statement from Breitbart CEO Larry Solov.