Who is responsible for advertising placements on the incredibly large and scarily diverse world wide web? I ask this question, because a friend recently sent me two screen grabs of the adverts displayed on the bottom of two extremely disturbing comments aimed at a young teenager, on the social site Qoohme. The adverts were from two respectable South African companies, placed by Google Display Network, that I know would never knowingly support the site Qoohme, or the comments their adverts were displayed alongside of. And yet, there they were.

I wrote a post about Qoohme in 2012, and updated it recently with all of the above, so you can do a quick catch up there.

It’s Not Us

So who do I as a parent, concerned citizen, business owner, digital advertiser, human being, approach when I want to find the source of responsibility? Do I go to Google, or do I approach the advertisers? One of the advertisers, Moyo, responded to my query and they seem pretty clear….

One of the methods we use to advertise our brand online is through Google ads and we have an appointed marketing agency that handles this on our behalf. Our marketing agency is allocated with a budget to advertise with Google and provides Google with a list of site category exclusions where the ad is not to be displayed. We have excluded all defamatory, abusive, obscene, threatening, racially offensive, pornographic, sexually explicit sites.

Google then uses a sophisticated algorithm to place the ads on various sites. Unfortunately, an advertiser cannot control the websites on which its ad appears other than to try provide a generic list of exclusions, which we duly did. From time to time an advert may inadvertently appear on an unsuitable site as in this case. Furthermore, we are not responsible for the ads that appear on any site, such as Qooh.me, and likewise we cannot be associated and/or liable for the unlawful and/or defamatory content published on sites where our ads appear.

We have blacklisted Qooh.me so that our ad will never appear on their platform again.

On a Facebook conversation about this, the MD of a well known South Africa online business had this to say, in support of Moyo’s view….

Those seem to be Google ads. Qoohme is making money from Adsense. To be fair, old Mutual etc probably are not aware….as you put trust when creating Adwords that Google is displaying them in relevant sites. Maybe report them to the Adsense team…as they are strict with the websites where the ads are displayed. This would possibly also affect Ooohme’s revenue stream

And supported by one of SA’s leading Digital Media consultants….

I agree, the ads are definitely being placed through a network – most likely Google – so the advertisers don’t really know where they are going.

Is it Google then?

But then goes on to suggest that it’s Google who are responsible, and should be approached….

If anything, I’d be taking Google and the programmatic networks to task about this site. I’d never heard of Qoohme before you posted this, but it looks like a disgusting platform. Most of the big tech players are taking very firm stands against bullying, and maybe if enough of us raise our voices we can shut off this site’s revenue stream. Then let’s look at the ISP hosting it and get them to shut it down.

My colleague put the responsibility firmly in the domain of the advertisers….

It’s their money, and the big corporates especially, are employing agencies who must be getting reports and going through them. Why aren’t they asking questions, like, who is Qoohme? Especially when you consider the fees big agencies charge.

None of this is particularly useful to those people and families impacted by what is said on the site. Here’s a comment from my original post…..

I first heard of Qoohme a few months ago (delayed? I know) but I didn’t give the site any thought, I was aware that my little sister had it but to me it wasn’t dangerous as I didn’t know how it operated. A few months ago my sister started changing a lot, her entire attitude changed. My family and I couldn’t understand the reason why and to a certain extent we still can’t.
My sister wasn’t fat but like everyone in my family she loved food, about 3-4 months ago she stopped eating, whenever we asked the reason she just ‘wasn’t hungry’.

It was only recently that it was brought to my attention that on Qoohme she is getting bullied, people are telling her that she’s fat and should lose weight or that she should commit suicide and now her behavior finally makes SOME sense. All this happened right under my nose, yet my parents and I didn’t know because she wasn’t monitored. She kept quiet and if it wasn’t for someone who has Qoohme warning me, I still wouldn’t know.

Maybe it’s Both / And?

Finding the responsible party is possibly both / and. It’s approaching Google and any advertisers whose content appears on sites like Qoohme.

Techie Dad, commenting on the original post suggests…

To start a proper movement, I suggest you look at the site https://www.causes.com/. Start a online petition and get enough people to join you in your fight against Qooh.me. In fact there are plenty of anti-bullying posts setup here already 

I’m sure this conversation is far from over. Hoping that it’ll help to create more useful conversation and clarity around how to ensure our children have a safer internet experience.