AT&T Suspends YouTube Ad Spending as Boycott Over ‘Pedophilia’ Videos Scandal Widens

Todd Spangler

AT&T, one month after it thought it was safe to advertise on YouTube again, said it is pulling all advertising spending from the world’s biggest video platform. The telco joins a boycott by marketers alarmed by the discovery that a secret group of child predators has been using YouTube to make sexual comments about kids.

In a statement, an AT&T spokesman said, “Until Google can protect our brand from offensive content of any kind, we are removing all advertising from YouTube.”

Related stories

Epic Pulls 'Fortnite' Ads From YouTube After Child Predator Controversy

Disney Reportedly Pulls YouTube Ads Over Child-Exploitation Controversy

CNN Seeks 'Both Sides' Balance but Spurs Criticism From All Sides (Analysis)

The issue — the latest “brand safety” scandal for YouTube — was exposed by vlogger Matt Watson in a Feb. 17 video. Watson discovered that YouTube’s algorithms enabled child predators to secretly connect across a series of videos with young girls engaged in everyday activities like gymnastics, stretching or hanging out at home. In those videos, members of what Watson called a “soft-core pedophilia ring” made sexualized comments about the girls tagged with timestamps identifying moments in the videos when the kids were in certain poses. The users in some cases traded child pornography in the comments section, he claimed.

Other marketers that have dropped spending with YouTube over the scandal include Disney, Epic Games, Hasbro, McDonald’s and Nestlé.

Google and YouTube reps, asked to comment about the advertiser spending freezes, did not address them directly. A company rep provided the same statement YouTube released previously, which said in part, “Any content — including comments — that endangers minors is abhorrent, and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube. We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that include minors.”

YouTube said in the 48 hours after Watson’s video posted, the service terminated over 400 accounts and channels that violated its policies and shut down the comments section on tens of millions of videos. YouTube also said it reported illegal activity to National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to work with law-enforcement authorities.

AT&T was among the advertisers that pulled its ad spending from YouTube in March 2017, after the revelation that YouTube was serving ads against terrorist video and other hate speech. Last month, the telco said it planned to resume buying ads on YouTube. AT&T brand chief Fiona Carter told the New York Times the company felt YouTube had taken adequate measures to ensure the platform was “brand safe” again.

Subscribe to Variety Newsletters and Email Alerts!