The Lawfare Podcast: Defunding the Insurrectionists

By Jen Patja Howell
Thursday, January 27, 2022, 5:01 AM

As we’ve discussed on the show, online advertisements are the shifting, unstable sand on which the contemporary internet is built. And one of the many, many ways in which the online ad ecosystem is confusing and opaque involves how advertisers can find their ads popping up alongside content they’d rather not be associated with—and, all too often, not having any idea how that happened.

This week on Arbiters of Truth, our series on the online information ecosystem, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke to Nandini Jammi and Claire Atkin of the Check My Ads Institute. Their goal is to serve as a watchdog for the ad industry, and they’ve just started a campaign to let companies know—and call them out—when their ads are showing up next to content published by far-right figures like Steve Bannon who supported the Jan. 6 insurrection. So what is it about the ads industry that makes things so opaque, even for the companies paying to have their ads appear online? What techniques do Claire and Nandini use to trace ad distribution? And how do advertisers usually respond when Check My Ads alerts them that they’re funding “brand unsafe” content?