Flop of the Month: Google's long search for an answer in YouTube extremism furore

The wonderful thing about Google is that if you've got a burning question to which you need to find a response, you can get it in a matter of seconds.

Flop of the Month: Google's long search for an answer in YouTube extremism furore

How ironic, then, that Google itself has dithered so much and failed to provide statements that adequately address concerns that adverts carried on YouTube, which it owns, are unwittingly making tens of thousands of pounds for extremist groups.

While Google has allegedly been aware of this issue for years (more on that later), the story was brought to prominence by The Times with a front page splash on 9 February.

Times writer Alexi Mostrous has continued to plug away assiduously at the story, giving Google further embarrassing headlines over the following week, leading to criticism from various industry commentators and, perhaps inevitably, Sir Martin Sorrell.

On 14 March it went through the traditional chastening select committee appearance - which is becoming something of an annual event for the, ahem, tax-savvy brand. Among the more ferocious critics was Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who, in the words of the BBC, accused it of "making money from ‘videos peddling hate’ on its platform".

On 17 March, its UK MD wrote a short blog post committing to "address these issues and earn their trust every day so that they can use our services both successfully and safely".

Too little, too late?

By now, it appeared that Google was beginning to wake up to the need to be more proactive and contrite in its pronouncements. After a meeting with the Cabinet Office, where Google was told that Government ad spend would be stopped until a solution was found, EMEA president Matt Britton told an industry conference that he was "sorry".

The list of brands that have abandoned or considered abandoning their spending on YouTube or Google is now lengthy; and includes Marks & Spencer, Tesco, HSBC, Toyota, The Guardian, Vodafone, Havas Media Group and its clients, to name but a few. Some are now calling for discounts.

PR professionals practically lined up last week to tell PRWeek that Google had responded too slowly, and without sufficient gravity to a problem it had been aware of long before The Times brought it to light.

Notwithstanding the ethical and technical difficulties of policing the vast quantities of footage being uploaded by YouTube from across the world, Google evidently has not communicated well enough. Its advertisers are spooked, MPs are angry and its reputation has suffered. One might argue that it is probably too big and impressive a company for that PR failing to really do it any major long-term damage - but then ‘probably’ is the key word.

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