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Wal-Mart, PepsiCo and Dish pull YouTube ads over hateful videos

Big brands are flexing their political muscle as they pull even more ads from Google's YouTube after the ads appear next to extremist videos.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
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Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, Starbucks, General Motors, FX Networks and Dish Network have joined the advertising blackout against Google after learning their ads are appearing on YouTube next to videos espousing racist and anti-Semitic views.

They told The Wall Street Journal they were pulling either some or all of their ads from the internet giant after being alerted the ads were still appearing on Google-owned YouTube, despite an apology from YouTube and a promise of change in policy.

"We are deeply concerned and terribly disappointed that some of our brand ads have appeared alongside videos that promote hate and are offensive," PepsiCo said in a statement, adding that it's removed ads from all of Google's nonsearch services, including YouTube. "PepsiCo has a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion, and content like this violates our core values."

Starbucks equally said it was shocked by the development, and stressed these videos don't fit with its vision or culture. The company has pulled its ads, and in the meantime is discussing the best way to prevent this from happening in the future. "Our content should not have appeared before the video referenced or any videos like it," a company spokeswoman said in a statement. "It has since been removed."

GM confirmed it had pulled its ads, while Wal-Mart -- which said some of the content was "appalling" -- said it pulled all non-search ads. Other companies mentioned didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The WSJ also found that ads from major brands including Amazon, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Microsoft were appearing next to objectionable YouTube videos. Coke confirmed it had pulled its non-search ads while Microsoft said it's working with its media partners to fix these issues.

P&G declined to comment specifically about Google but said it continually works with advertising partners and makes changes if they don't comply with ethics guidelines. Amazon didn't respond to a request for comment.

This marks the latest bad news for YouTube, the internet's second-most-trafficked site. It's faced increasing scrutiny as waves of anti-Semitic and racist incidents have shocked the country over the past several months. As people have searched for reasons why this appears to be happening, their attention has fallen squarely on extremist news sites, social media and services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Other companies that have backed away from YouTube include Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, McDonald's, Marks & Spencer, L'Oreal, Audi, the BBC, the Guardian and the UK government.

First published March 24, 1:13 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:19 p.m.: Adds comment from PepsiCo and Starbucks.
Update, 1:46 p.m.: Adds confirmation from GM, Coke and Wal-Mart.
Update, 8:56 p.m.: Adds comment from P&G.