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Well-known Slovak firms advertise on conspiracy sites

MIGRANTS kidnapped and raped a 13-year-old Russian-German girl for several hours, according to the Czech server AC24, but German investigators debunked the story in a matter of days – but ads from some of the country's biggest companies appear on the conspiracy web site.

(Source: Sme)

That same website publishes several similar stories each week, according to reports made by European Union’s special Task Force StratCom East which monitors disinformation and pro-Russian propaganda spreading via media, but its popularity makes it a valuable spot for advertisers.

In 2014, AC24 had an average of 1.9 million users per month and most analysts believe those numbers are growing. Even big well-known companies have advertisements there via Google AdWords, the online advertising service that posts ads based on a web users surfing history.

Prečítajte si tiež: Prečítajte si tiež:Analysts: Slovakia ill prepared to face Russian propaganda

Reporters for the Sme daily found in mid January the Slovenská Sporiteľňa, the country’s largest bank, the mobile operator O2, ski pass advertisement from Tatra Mountain Resorts (TMR),  cable network opertor UPC and one of the Slovakia’s largest internet shops Hej.sk. Those firms expressed their surprise that they have advertisement there and several said that they will withdraw their brand from such a website.

“It is really absurd that advertisements funds websites which spread anti-European, extremist or militant anti-capitalistic rhetoric similar to [socialist] rhetoric from the 1950s,” Marian Jaslovský, the social media manager in Mindshare media agency told The Slovak Spectator.  

Hard to avoid

When advertisers use online systems like Google Adwords they can adjust focus of the campaign using several distinguishing criteria. Usually this is work for their online marketing departments, according to Juraj Mýtny, the expert on online marketing of Finc3 company.

Google did not answer question about whether advertisers could opt out of advertising on such sites. 

“It is possible to reject some types of websites such as websites with sexual content or tragedies but it is not possible to avoid specific group of conspiracy or pro-Russian websites,” Ján Urbančík, the head of NetSuccess digital agency that works with Google Adwords on daily basis, told The Slovak Spectator. (NOTE: Both NetSuccess and The Slovak Spectator are partially owned by Petit Press media house).

It is possible to avoid such websites by regularly checking online campaign statistics showing every website publishing the advertisement, Urbančík added.

“There could be thousands of such websites and that is the reason why this control is so complicated,” Urbančík said. “Subsequently it is possible to reject those websites in media campaign.”

Firms that have their ads appear in conspiracy websites should not be blamed for unethical advertising because the whole problem is new and companies have never had to dealt with it, according to Jaslovský.

Google ads

Firms approached by The Slovak Spectator stated that they are visible on conspiracy webpage because of Adwords system run by Google.

“Probably it is Google Adwords which can be visible after visiting our official webpage and subsequently on various websites using the Google Adsense program [to target an audience],” UPC Broadband Slovakia spokesman Jaroslav Kolár told the Slovak Spectator.

Advertisers choose the price which they are willing to pay for click on advertisement banner or for its visualisation. Then they choose criteria for targeting the advertisement, budget and the length of the campaign. Then they upload banners to the system and after provider accepts it the campaign is launched, Mýtny explains.

On the question of The Slovak Spectator whether Google has the list of conspiracy websites Google Slovakia and Czech Republic spokeswoman Janka Zichová responded that advertisers are able to control where their advertisement is published. Moreover, Google constantly monitors websites that are part of its advertising network of the company.

“In case that it is proved that publisher is violating rules and conditions of the service their account is deactivated,” Zichová told The Slovak Spectator.

Firms did not know

TMR claims that it is not controlling the day to day operations of its web advertising, but that  its media agency can alter what sites the ads appear on.

“We did knot know about this webpage. In our next campaign the publishing of our advertisement in AC24 webpage will be banned,” TMR spokeswoman Zuzana Fabianová told the Slovak Spectator.

The Zuno bank also stated that it did not specifically choose AC24 for its ads.

“We are regularly creating and actualising the list of web pages which we don’t want to publish our advertisement on,” spokesman Vladimír Michna told the Slovak Spectator. “Thus, we will add this website to our list.”

Hej.sk promised that it will check why Google runs its services on such webpages and Slovenská sporiteľňa stated that it will analyse the whole case.

“Fairness has been always among the basic values of the company to such an extend that it will want to precise list [of webpages] from Google Adwords,” O2 O2 spokeswoman Martina Jamrichová told The Slovak Spectator.

Ethics in advertising

Slovak rules for advertising are relatively weak. The behaviour of advertisers cannot be shaped by rules, according to Milan Lechnický, the former head of The Club of Advertising Agencies Slovakia (KRAS).

On the other hand, firms naturally do not want to be connected with conspiracy or extremist websites, according to Jaslovský.

Advertisers however should know from its media agency on which web pages their advertisement will be published. The behaviour of advertisers can be regulated also by their customers, according to Lechnický.

“Customers can give feedback to advertisers that they don’t like websites in which their advertisement is published,” Lechnický said, “and it can affect their decision which product they will buy or not. This is the most effective regulation.”

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