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Updated: Google Suspends Anti-War Site's Ad Revenue for Posting Abu Ghraib Photos


March 23, 2015
Alex Pareene / Gawker & Eric Garris / AntiWar.com

Since 2006, the venerable libertarian anti-interventionist website AntiWar.com has hosted uncensored photos of abuses committed by US troops inside Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Recently, AntiWar.com received an automated email from Google suspending the site from Google's ad network, because the page allegedly violates AdSense policy. Either Google is incorrectly enforcing its own policies, or their policies do not allow for controversial -- but clearly newsworthy -- content.

http://gawker.com/google-suspends-anti-war-site-from-ad-network-for-abu-g-1692398286

Google Disables All Ads on Antiwar.com
Because we have a page showing the Abu Ghraib abuses

Eric Garris / AntiWar.com

(March 18, 2015) -- Update: After channels of communication were opened as a result of this article on Gawker [See article below -- EAW], Google contacted us and said they would be restoring our ads.

However, Friday morning, I received another demand to remove content from our site. Google has decided this page must be removed. [See next article below -- EAW.]

We have no intention of letting Google dictate our editorial policies.



Updated: Google Suspends Site from Ad Network for Abu Ghraib Photo
Alex Pareene / Gawker

UPDATED BELOW Since 2006, the venerable libertarian anti-interventionist website AntiWar.com has hosted uncensored photos of abuses committed by United States troops at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. You can see them here On Wednesday morning, AntiWar.com received an automated email from Google explaining that the site was being suspended from Google's AdSense ad network, because that page violates AdSense policy. Either Google is incorrectly enforcing its own policies, or their policies do not allow for controversial -- but clearly and objectively newsworthy -- content.

March 20 Update: Just when Google was about to resume serving ads to AntiWar.com, the site received another notice claiming that another page was in violation. This one didn't feature Abu Ghraib photos at all, but rather an Associated Press photo of corpses in Donetsk. (Warning: That link, as you can probably guess, is very graphic.)

While it is understandable that Google would rather not serve ads next to corpse photos, this presents something of a challenge for a site that is, as its name might hint, dedicated to opposing war, in large part because war involves the production of a great many corpses.

AntiWar.com has run probably hundreds of similar photos over the years, and Eric Garris compared finding each one of them the site has ever published, for the purposes of removing AdSense code from each one, post-by-post, to "playing whack-a-mole."

If AdSense is too squeamish for any and all graphic but newsworthy content, it's hard to see how it can work for publishers of independent journalism. The rest of this post continues as originally published (and updated).

UPDATE: AntiWar.com was indeed in violation -- if barely -- of AdSense policy. [See below for details.]

Here's Google's explanation of the policy AntiWar.com is in violation of, from their email to the site:

VIOLENCE/GORE: As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on pages with violent or disturbing content, including sites with gory text or images. More information about this policy can be found in our help center (https://support.google.com/adsense/answer...).

VIOLENCE: As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on pages with violent content. This includes sites with content related to breaking bones, getting hit by trains or cars, or people receiving serious injuries. More information about this policy can be found in our help center (https://support.google.com/adsense/answer...).

Obviously, there is an important difference between "gore" of the titillating, "Faces of Death" variety and "gore" that depicts human rights abuses carried out by the United States military. Are Google's algorithms and human monitors capable of recognizing that difference?

AntiWar.com cofounder Eric Garris thinks, understandably, that Google was requesting that they pull the pictures entirely if AntiWar.com is to continue working with AdSense. He told me that total suspension from AdSense could cost the site thousands of dollars a month, which is a decent chunk of AntiWar.com's modest budget. (They're currently looking into joining alternate ad networks.)

Garris also told me that the Abu Ghraib page has never actually included Google ads, specifically because of the obvious possibility that advertisers would balk at seeing their ads there. According to a Google spokesperson, that would mean AntiWar.com hasn't actually violated AdSense policies at all. [Emphasis added.] What's still unclear is why this suspension happened, how AntiWar.com can get reinstated, and how they can make sure something like this doesn't happen in the future.

When found to be in violation of policy, AdSense clients are told to remove the offending content and ask to be reinstated in the program, and they are given very little recourse to challenge Google's interpretation of its policy. Feel free to try out the "Appeal a Violation Notification Troubleshooter" yourself. As you can see, if you answer "no" to "Have you fixed the policy issues we contacted you about?" you are effectively told that that is not a valid response:

We encourage you to make the necessary changes to ensure that the content in your network complies with program policies. In many cases, our decision is final. However, in some cases, if you are able to make appropriate changes to bring your site into compliance, we may re-enable ad serving to your site.

Once you make the necessary changes you may submit an appeal by using this troubleshooter. Please don't do so until you’ve ensured that your websites comply with our program policies.


Other Google support documents similarly do not allow for the idea that Google's policies or interpretation of its policies are flawed, or that a mistake could have been made:

File a strong appeal: Once you've done all of the above then you're ready and welcome to send us your appeal. To make sure that the appeal is a strong one, please tell us exactly what action you've taken on your site to resolve the violations and also tell us how you'll prevent similar occurrences in the future.

You could even include some other example URLs that you've taken action on proactively. The more information you provide us with the better informed we are and can see how serious you are about working with us and remaining compliant. Once you're ready to start the appeals process, please file your appeal using this Policy Violation Appeal form.


According to Garris, AntiWar's ad sales representative reached out to AdSense contacts and was told to formally appeal by mail -- US Mail, not email. AntiWar.Com received another email from AdSense support this morning, that again called for the site to remove ads from pages that the site says never had ads on them to begin with, or to "remove the pages completely."

I was able to reach a Google spokesperson who confirmed that if, as Garris insists, the Abu Ghraib photo pages never featured ads, then they weren't in violation of AdSense policy. The spokesperson couldn't comment on specific instances of AdSense policy application, but I was told that Google was in the process of "reaching out to the publisher."

And indeed, shortly after I spoke with Google, AntiWar.com received another email from AdSense.

Hi Eric,

Our media team noticed your blog post and informed me regarding the issue you raise in your post.

I am very sorry that you had this experience, as we should have warned you before blacklisting the site, which we didn't. Our warning would have mentioned simply removing our AdSense code from the Abu Ghraib page, which would allow you to continue earning money on the other pages of your site that were not in violation of any AdSense policies.

At this point, please remove the ad code from this page and we can reinstate ad serving throughout your site. Once complete, please file a site appeal, and our team will review ASAP. Further, revenue earned to this point, and after reinstatement will not be affected.

Google does need to be very careful with this sort of thing, since we have to make sure that our ads do not appear on pages that violate any of our policies. There are surprising instances of bad actors out there, and even otherwise trustworthy publishers can end up being the victim of bad traffic.

At the same time, though, partners like you deserve a better customer service experience even when there are problems. Your post has sparked conversation here -- you have been heard.

Please feel free to reach out again if need be. While I can't solve everything, I'm happy to hear from great partners like you directly.

Best, [Redacted]


Garris still says the pages in question have never included ad code. If he's correct, Google's continued insistence otherwise is baffling. Even if Garris is wrong, and ad code was accidentally inserted into the Abu Ghraib pages, it's highly unlikely that Google would've been this responsive to his appeal if a journalist at an outlet with a national audience hadn't inquired with Google PR.

UPDATE 2:15 p.m.: After another review of the pages cited by Google, AntiWar.com did find remnants of AdSense code, probably dating back to a CMS migration. It doesn't appear that the code was actually delivering any ads, and even if it were, the ads would've been invisible to a reader.

[UPDATE 2: This Internet Archive link suggests that ads may have been visible on at least one of the pages.] It remains the case that Google AdSense support is lacking for smaller publishers -- ad-delivering code on a controversial page with genuine news value shouldn't immediately result in a full suspension from the network -- and it's unclear whether Google is able to distinguish between working, ad-delivering code and stray remnants. (If it can, it probably should tell publishers in greater detail where the offending code is when issuing suspensions.)

Overeager moderation by the behemoth companies that have an outsized influence on Internet traffic and site revenue is not at all uncommon. (Facebook is a particularly egregious offender. Gawker itself was once suspended from Facebook after an unknown person or persons reported posts on Ferguson as "racist.") And the process for appealing these sorts of incidents is frustratingly opaque, especially for publishers who don't have specific personal contacts within Google or Facebook.

A simple search -- on Google, naturally -- for AdSense contact information turns up numerous forum posts, dating back years, from publishers trying to appeal suspensions or ask simple questions about the network but who are unable to reach human beings at Google.

Google may resolve this particular case fairly, but the incident should still worry publishers of controversial political content who rely on Google for revenue. It looks to be much too easy for a malicious complaint, a faulty algorithm, simple human misinterpretation or overeager application of policy to cost a publisher a lot of money. The result could be a very real chilling effect on independent journalism.


Here Is the Article that Google Ordered Removed
Chris Ernesto / AntiWar.com

(May 28, 2014) -- The US doesn’t want peace in Ukraine -- it wants control. So now that the situation there has largely blown up in their face, it’s not unreasonable to suspect them of fomenting more unrest in an attempt to change momentum.

Monday’s ruthless attack by the Ukrainian government in Donetsk in which up to 100 people were killed was a clear indication of this. Although the government labeled the offensive as an "anti-terrorist" operation, the reality is that it was either a case of Ukraine killing its own people, or it was a military assault against a sovereign population, depending on one’s interpretation of the Donetsk People’s Republic referendum of May 11 in which the people overwhelmingly voted for independence from Ukraine.

Either way, given that the past two weeks have been filled with bad news for the US and its puppet government in Kiev, we should be on the lookout for more of these types of violent provocations. That’s what desperate, crumbling powers do when things don’t go their way.

The first bit of recent devastating news for the US were the aforementioned May 11 referendums in which almost 90 percent of voters in Donetsk Region and 96 percent of voters in Lugansk Region endorsed political independence from Kiev.

No matter what happens from this point forward, now that the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions have joined Crimea in voting for self-rule, there are 9.1 million fewer people, and approximately 30,000 fewer square miles the US can have in its "sphere of influence." Knowing that the grand prize of owning control of Ukraine has just been reduced by 20 percent has got to hurt Washington’s empire builders.

And then there was the bombshell announcement on May 21, that after a decade of tough negotiations, Russia and China agreed to a $400 billion deal that will link Russia’s natural gas fields to China’s pipeline system. The deal "establishes possibly the most important gas benchmark in decades," said Francisco Blanch, Bank of America’s global head of commodities research.

Though media in the US was obviously told to downplay the significance of the agreement, even countries like Australia -- a willing participant in many recent US imperial ventures -- are lamenting the deal.

"We can’t afford to underestimate the significance of last week’s development for the Pacific gas market," specialist gas industry consultant Graham Bethune of EnergyQuest said. "The negative impact for Australia’s [liquefied natural gas] competitiveness and future market share from this new market dynamic is serious."

Didn’t anyone in Washington think this could happen, given its hostile behavior towards Russia? Did the global bully think it could just continue to punch without being hit back? "The US-British attempt to wound Russia’s economy and punish Putin for disobedience had just blown up in their red faces," wrote Eric Margolis. "Russia has thus given its economy a big boost and made western sanctions look inconsequential. Chinese funds will allow cash-strapped Russia to modernize its oil and gas industry."

The only bit of recent good news for the US in Ukraine was the election of the pro-EU Petro Poroshenko -- known as the "Chocolate King" -- who was voted in as Ukraine’s new president on Sunday.

But the election results will not change things on the ground. If anything, the legitimate protesters in Ukraine will become even more disillusioned now that another oligarch will be in charge -- something that led them to hit the streets in 2004 and again this year.

The people of Ukraine are politically astute, but even those who don’t pay attention to politics know exactly who Poroshenko is: He is Ukraine’s seventh richest man who owns one of the country’s largest television stations, and has made his main occupation as a politician since the failed Orange Revolution.

"Oligarchs are part of Ukraine’s problems; on that, pretty much everyone agrees. So why is [the new president, Poroshenko] being presented as Ukraine’s solution?" wrote Sarah A. Topol in Politico.

Immediately following his victory on Sunday, Poroshenko displayed some sensibility in saying that he wants to start talks with Russia once he’s in office. Russia agreed to the talks, as long as the US and EU are not involved. But Poroshenko must have had his hand slapped because the next day he ruled out discussions with the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east, calling them "bandit states," "murderers," and "terrorists."

Poroshenko went on to say that he supports a continuation of the military attacks in the east and south, but believes "it must be shorter and it must be more effective, military units must be better equipped." Analyst Daniel Patrick Welch told RT that "what that means today is [more] shelling against civilians, bombs that fall near occupied apartment blocks, fighter jets, and helicopter launches against an urban population."

So there it is. We can expect more of the same when it comes to the US trying to win hearts and minds in Ukraine. They’ll continue to try and paint the pro-federalist opposition in Ukraine as "pro-Russian" rebels or as "little green men" from Russia. They’ll come up with a follow-up ruse to the "anti-Semitic flyers being distributed by pro-Russian separatists." And they’ll try things like having Victoria Nuland tell everyone that protesters in eastern Ukraine wear "baklavas" on their face.

But when those efforts are met with laughter and are exposed as a hoax, the US will fall back on the one thing it knows it can always count on -- unleashing violence in the name of fighting "terrorists." This is especially convenient because it has the Ukrainian government and its militia of neo-Nazis to do the dirty work for them.

In the meantime, everyday people in Ukraine will begin to feel the impact of suffocating IMF loans and austerity measures, and will be burdened by the increased cost of everyday items that Russia previously gave them at a discount, namely natural gas.

It won’t take long for them to be back on the streets, and it won’t take long for others in the region to seek independence or alignment with Russia, as could soon be the case in Transnistria.

The US knows these things are just around the corner, and given its insatiable appetite for global primacy, they are not just going to sit back and watch as they lose their grasp on Ukraine and the rest of Eurasia.

Chris Ernesto is cofounder of St. Pete for Peace, an antiwar organization in St. Petersburg, FL that has been active since 2003. Mr. Ernesto also created and manages OccupyArrests.com and USinAfrica.com.


Background
From the Original AntiWar.com Post

On 3/18/15 we received a note from Google Adsense informing us that all ads for our site had been disabled. Why? Because of this page showing the horrific abuses committed by US troops in Iraq at Abu Ghraib.

This page has been up for 11 years. During all that time Google Adsense has been running ads on our site -- but as Washington gets ready to re-invade Iraq, and in bombing, killing, and abusing more civilians, they suddenly decide that their "anti-violence" policy, which prohibits "disturbing material," prohibits any depiction of violence committed by the US government and paid for with your tax dollars. This page is the third-most-visited page in our history, getting over 2 million page views since it was posted.

To say this is an utter outrage would be an understatement: it is quite simply the kind of situation one might expect to encounter in an authoritarian country where state-owned or state-connected companies routinely censor material that displeases the government.

Is Google now an arm of the US State Department?

You can confirm that Antiwar.com is being blocked by going to Adsenseblockchecker. This is a big hit on our funding. You can bet the boys in Washington don’t like us and would just love to shut us down.

ACTION ALERT: Don’t let them get away with it! We need your help today.

Contact Google ads and give them a piece of your mind. Tell them that you don’t appreciate their efforts on behalf of the Washington censors and demand that they reinstate us immediately.

Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheater Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
Telephone: 650-253-0000

You can also interact with Google at their forum

Thank you to all our supporters.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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