Breitbart and the ad tech complex that enables its brand of news

Donald Trump is under fire for appointing Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon to a top White House role, with many citing racist, sexist and anti-Semitic posts on Breitbart. But advertisers, thanks to programmatic ad systems, appear regularly on sites like Breitbart.

Programmatic ads are bought and sold by machine at massive scale, often based on audience targeting rather than site environment. One result is that brands’ ads can show up on inflammatory sites without their knowledge, despite safeguards they have in place. Google AdSense serves ads on millions of publisher sites, and among them is Breitbart. On a recent visit, ads from major consumer brands including Target, State Farm and CB2 were among those spotted in Google ads. State Farm said the ad was part of a small buy and that the site been blocked from its rotation list of sites. The others haven’t responded to requests for comment yet.

Google and Facebook said they would start prohibiting its ads from being placed on misrepresentative content. Google policy already says publishers may not place its AdSense code on pages that violate its content policy that prohibits, among other things, placing ads on pages whose content advocates against a group, individual or organization.

That apparently doesn’t include Breitbart stories like “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” The browser extension Ghostery lists 33 ad, site analytics and other trackers collecting information on Breitbart, including PubMatic, Rubicon and AOL’s Advertising.com. PubMatic declined to comment. We’ve asked others for comment; we’ll update this if they respond.

Breitbart also is littered with multiple content recommendation modules from Taboola and ZergNet. Taboola puts its ad widget on publisher’s sites and when readers click on paid links in the widget, Taboola shares revenue from the link providers with the host publisher.

Taboola CEO Adam Singolda said that the company’s guidelines prohibit it from working with publishers that post hate speech and racism and it’s now looking into the matter. While the company posts its guidelines for what content can go in the widget, he said it doesn’t publicize its publisher guidelines or comment about whether it’s reviewing any publisher site for compliance with those guidelines.

Reggie Renner, co-founder and CEO of ZergNet, said that ZergNet doesn’t make money off Breitbart. He said that Breitbart participates in ZergNet’s free audience development platform where publishers can share links with other sites of their choosing.

As for Breitbart’s inclusion in the network, Renner punted responsibility to the publishers, saying, “If sites are offended by other sites, they can simply choose to not work with them. In order to operate such a large network, we need to give some of the quality control over to the publishers to decide.”