How Steve Bannon Has Exploited Google Ads to Monetize Extremism Google kicked Bannon off YouTube because of his violent rhetoric but still sent ad dollars to his website that promotes misinformation about the election and the pandemic. Steve Bannon, a former advisor to President Donald Trump, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington after appearing to face charges of snubbing a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot. ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published. Almost a year ago, Google took a major step to ensure that its ubiquitous online ad network didn’t put money in the pocket of Steve Bannon, the indicted former adviser to Donald Trump. The company kicked Bannon off YouTube, which Google owns, after he called for the beheading of Anthony Fauci and urged Trump supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to try to overturn the presidential election results. Google also confirmed to ProPublica that it has at times blocked ads from appearing on Bannon’s War Room website alongside individual articles that violate Google’s rules. But Bannon found a loophole in Google’s policies that let him keep earning ad money on his site’s homepage. Until Monday, the home page automatically played innocuous stock content, such as tips on how to protect your phone in winter weather or how to improve the effectiveness of your LinkedIn profile. ProPublica Get Our Top Investigations Subscribe to the Big Story newsletter. Thanks for signing up. If you like our stories, mind sharing this with a friend? https://www.propublica.org/newsletters/the-big-story?source=www.propublica.org&placement=share®ion=national Copy link For more ways to keep up, be sure to check out the rest of our newsletters. See All Fact-based, independent journalism is needed now more than ever. Donate The content likely had no interest for War Room visitors, especially since it was interrupted every few seconds by ads. But the ads, supplied through Google’s network, came from such prominent brands as Land Rover, Volvo, DoorDash, Staples and even Harvard University. Right below that video player was another that featured clips from Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, which routinely portrays participants in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as patriots and airs false claims about the 2020 election and the COVID pandemic. The video player running Google ads amid innocuous clips disappeared from Bannon’s website on Monday, after ProPublica inquired with Google, Bannon and advertisers. The change was not Google’s doing: Google spokesperson Michael Aciman said the player did not break the company’s rules. He said Google’s policies were effective in preventing ads from ending up on sites with “harmful content.” “We have strict policies that explicitly prohibit publishers from both promoting harmful content and providing inaccurate information about their properties, misrepresenting their identity, or sending unauthorized ad requests,” Aciman said. “These policies exist to protect both users and advertisers from abuse, fraud or disruptive ad experiences, and we enforce them through a mix of automated tools and human review. When we find publishers that violate these policies we stop ads from serving on their site.” A spokesperson for Bannon, who was indicted this month for stonewalling Congress’ bipartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection, declined to answer questions for this article. Zach Edwards, the founder of Victory Medium, a consulting firm that advises companies on online advertising, said the digital ad industry, including Google, is rife with loopholes and bad behavior, and its complexity prevents advertisers from understanding what they’re funding. “A lot of times ad buyers just shrug their shoulders and are like, ‘It’s video ads, what can you do?’” he said. Of Bannon’s dodge and Google’s acquiescence to it, Edwards added, “Nothing about this is aboveboard.” The vast majority of online ads aren’t purchased through direct relationships with the sites on which they appear. Instead, brands use automated ad exchanges like Google’s that rely on real-time auctions to automatically place ads in front of people who fit a brand’s target audience. As long as Google keeps the War Room website in its network, and as long as brands don’t specifically block it from their ad buys, Bannon’s site can keep collecting money. Warroom.org draws between 450,000 and 1 million visits a month, according to traffic tracker SimilarWeb. And Google takes a cut of each dollar from ads it places on the War Room site. “For most advertisers, having an ad placed on a Steve Bannon-affiliated outlet is the stuff of nightmares,” said Nandini Jammi, the co-founder of Check My Ads, an ad industry watchdog. “The fact that ad exchanges are still serving ads should tell brands that their vendors are not vetting their inventory, and I wouldn’t be surprised if adver . . . read the full article here.