YouTube is facing yet another big advertiser backlash, with Disney, Epic Games and McDonald’s among the marketers said to have pulled their ad spending after the Google-owned video platform was accused of facilitating what a critic described as a “soft-core pedophilia ring.”
Vlogger Matt Watson, in a Feb. 17 video on his YouTube channel MattsWhatItIs, showed how YouTube’s algorithms enabled a secret “wormhole” for pedophiles, who posted sexual comments on videos of young girls and identified sections of the videos where they were in compromising positions or suggestive poses. In some cases, users were trading child pornography in the comments section, he claimed.
“How does this exist?” a visibly upset Watson railed in the video. “For me, I want nothing to do with this platform that’s supporting this s—… It’s disgusting.”
In the wake of the revelations, Disney suspended its advertising spending on YouTube, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. (Disney reps did not respond to requests for comment.) Other advertisers that have frozen their YouTube ad spending include Epic Games, maker of “Fortnite,” and Nestle U.S., per the report. McDonald’s also has pulled YouTube ad spending, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
YouTube did not comment on advertisers suspending their spending. According to YouTube, after Watson posted his exposé, the service terminated over 400 accounts and channels that violated its policies, disabled comments on “tens of millions” of videos and also reported illegal activity to law-enforcement authorities.
“Any content — including comments — that endangers minors is abhorrent, and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube,” a YouTube rep said in a statement. “There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.”
According to Watson, videos in the “pedophile ring” had run ads from brands including McDonald’s, Lysol, Disney, Hershey Co.’s Reese’s, Purina, Grammarly, Ikea and GNC.
It’s the latest in a string of “brand safety” scandals for YouTube involving ads served with inappropriate content. In the fall of 2017, YouTube was hit by a backlash over ads on videos that attracted child predators. Earlier that year, evidence that YouTube was placing ads against violent and extremist videos led to a broad boycott by hundreds of advertisers, including Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Dish Network and PepsiCo.
AT&T only last month announced that it planned to resume buying ads on YouTube after almost a two-year hiatus, telling the New York Times that it had determined the platform had taken sufficient steps to make itself “brand safe.”
In response to the advertiser pullouts in 2017, YouTube moved to tighten controls over how ads are served and set new restrictions on creator eligibility for revenue sharing. Some YouTubers complained of an “adpocalypse” that cut into their earnings after the changes.