Why Are There Currently No Ads On Techdirt? Apparently Google Thinks We're Dangerous

from the content-moderation-at-scale dept

You probably didn’t notice it, but there are currently no third-party ads on Techdirt. We pulled them down late last week, after it became impossible to keep them on the site, thanks to some content moderation choices by Google. In some ways, this is yet another example of the impossibility of content moderation at scale. If we didn’t know and understand how impossible content moderation at scale is to do well, we might be like The Federalist and pretend that Google’s content moderation decisions were based on disagreement with our ideology. That would have allowed us to make a fake story like the one that is still getting news cycles, thanks to idiots in Congress insisting that Google defunded the Federalist because of its ideological viewpoints.

The truth is that Google’s AdSense (its third-party ad platform) content moderation just sucks. In those earlier posts about The Federalist’s situation, we mentioned that tons of websites deal with those “policy violation” notices from Google all the time. Two weeks ago, it went into overdrive for us: we started receiving policy violation notices at least once a day, and frequently multiple times per day. Every time, the message was the same, telling us we had violated their policies (they don’t say which ones) and we had to log in to our “AdSense Policy Center” to find out what the problem was. Every day for the ensuing week and a half (until we pulled the ads down), we would get more of these notices, and every time we’d log in to the Policy Center, we’d get an ever rotating list of “violations.” But there was never much info to explain what the violation was. Sometimes it was “URL not found” (which seems to say more about AdSense’s shit crawler than us). Sometimes it was “dangerous and derogatory content.” Sometimes it was “shocking content.”

But that would be about it. One difference, however, was that in the past Google would say that we didn’t need to fix those flagged URLs and that they would just stop showing ads on those pages. Which is fine. They don’t want their ads appearing there, no problem. But, many of these new “policy violations” said they were “must fix” issues. But what that “fix” sould be was never explained. Incredibly, this included a non-existent URL (a malformed URL that would just take you to the front page of Techdirt). That was deemed “must fix.” Also, somewhat amusingly, the tag page for Google was deemed “dangerous or derogatory” and “must fix”:

Same with the tag page for “content moderation.” I only wish I were joking:

Again, what you see there was basically all of the information given to us. How do we “fix” that? Who the fuck knows? Again, I do not think that this is Google targeting us for our views (even when we have been critical of Google or Google’s content moderation practices). It just seems to be that content moderation is impossible to do well, and Google is a prime example.

Incredibly, this list of problematic URLs would just keep changing. Some would drop off the list with no explanation (even the “must fix” ones). Some new ones would be added. Some would switch between “must fix” and “don’t need to fix.” No explanation. No record of the “fixes.” As an example, on Friday July 31st, I logged in and saw 25 URLs deemed to be policy violations. On Saturday morning I logged in and it was down to 18. No reason. Sunday morning it was at 22. But Sunday evening it was 27.

I tried to reach out to people at AdSense to figure out what the hell we should do and did not get back anything useful.

Three other things happened around this time as well. First, on the same day we started receiving these daily (or multiple times daily) policy violation emails, Google also started claiming that our daily emails (which are just snapshots of the blog itself) were phishing attempts, and automatically deleting them from any G Suite user’s email account:

For users of Gmail (not G Suite) it just moved our newsletters to spam, still claiming they were phishing attempts:

Again, the emails don’t ask users to do anything or to log in to anything. They’re not phishing. They’re just an email version of the day’s blog posts. We didn’t see how these two things (the AdSense violations and the accusations of “phishing”) could possibly be connected, so it might just be a coincidence that they started the exact same day — but, again, who knows?

The next thing that happened was that the company we work with to manage the ad flow on our website (and to bring in other sources, beyond Google ads) told us that Google had reached out to them (not us) to say that because of all of the ongoing unfixed “policy” violations, we would be kicked out of AdSense by the end of August. Also, Google told them that we were engaging in “clickspam” by hiding our ads to make them look like regular content, and that needed to be fixed immediately. The problem is — we don’t do that and have never done that. Our ads were always in the right hand column and clearly called out as ads. Indeed, we pay attention to what other sites do, and we are way, way, way, way more careful than basically every other website on the planet when it comes to not shoving our ads where they might be mistaken as organic content.

Finally, we started receiving reports from multiple Techdirt visitors (including those who told us they had purposefully whitelisted Techdirt from their ad blockers) that ads being delivered by Google were causing their computers to run hot. Multiple reports of ads on Techdirt failing to load properly, and causing Techdirt to fail to load properly. And also causing fans to turn on. And, to be honest, that’s the last straw for us. We would try to work with Google to understand why our content is so problematic for it, but when Google’s products start harming our users and causing a nuisance for them, that’s when they’ve got to go.

Given all this, we just decided that we’re pulling the ads off the site entirely for the time being — at least until we can figure out a better situation. This (obviously) represents a revenue hit for us, but the situation had become impossible to deal with. I was wasting so much time the past few weeks trying to figure out what the hell we were supposed to do, as opposed to doing the work I needed to be doing. So, that’s it for now. We’re looking at other providers out there, but so far, so many of the ones we talk to appear to be sketchy, and we’re not doing that either. If anyone knows of any non-sketchy, non-awful advertising partners, please let us know. Or, if you happen to have some excess money and want to just sponsor stuff so we don’t even have to worry about regular ads, let us know. Assuming most of you are not in that position, we do have a page of various ways individuals can support us. We know that times are tough for many, many people right now, but if you happen to be doing okay, and can help us replace at least a little of what money we made from ads, that would be greatly appreciated.

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Companies: google, techdirt

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Comments on “Why Are There Currently No Ads On Techdirt? Apparently Google Thinks We're Dangerous”

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118 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Some ballpark idea of how much revenue was lost would help when deciding whether and how much to donate. If we’re talking millions then tossing $10 or even $100 into the hat isn’t going to help. If it’s closer to $10k then it feels more productive to give $100 or even $10.

Personally, I would never donate money to a millionaire. Knowing the financial status of the person/organization asking for money can go a long way toward encouraging people to donate.

Dave Cortright (profile) says:

AdSense alternatives…

Some old colleagues ended up working at The Trade Desk. I’m not 100% sure if they have a product/service that would suit TechDirt, but thought I’d throw it out there as a possibility.

Also check out this list of AdSense alternatives:
https://www.g2.com/products/adsense/competitors/alternatives

And these:
https://alternativeto.net/software/google-adsense/

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This ought to be libel

Except the message was not public, it was between google and techdirt. In the US, one essential pillar of libel is actual (i.e. monetary) damage. It is hard to see how such a message could cause Techdirt to lose money (yes, the moderation does, but that is not the message). If the release of the message causes damage, techdirt did that release, so I don’t see how google can be held liable.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: This ought to be libel

"Ditto the "phishing attempt" and "spam" messages."

I wonder if some of it isn’t related to another topic TD covered – that of hacked deep fake phishing. Mike and a few other frequent editors and commenters DO count as celebrities (or at least household names) in some circles, and that may have Google algorithms on a quicker hair-trigger than usual.

Another, equally likely hypothesis, is that Baghdad Bob and other astroturfers have found a way to hit google’s blacklists with enough flags on trigger words and urls to impact known "liberal" sites. It’s happened before, after all.

The main problem with most of google’s trigger lists is that they usually act on data received from exterior sources, similar to spam-blockers and scriptblockers. This could just be similar to when uBlock decides every link on a page is an XSS cross-script attempt.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Someone who hates you is doing this on purpose

I suspect that a certain insane person who has been the subject of lawsuits against you in the past, is using adsense policies to write comments that are against terms of service, then reporting on his own comments. You can probably get the rest from logs and patterns of comments and do whatever you need to to prevent it from happening again in the future.

ghoti (profile) says:

Re: Someone who hates you is doing this on purpose

This is something I’ve been thinking as well. This could be some kind of adversarial action against Techdirt rather than googles adsense just randomly going crazy.

However. I think it’s more plausible that it’s someone who’s trying to blackmail adsense users, or maybe even just trying to practice the technique in preparation for bigger fish.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Someone who hates you is doing this on purpose

"I suspect that a certain insane person who has been the subject of lawsuits against you in the past, is using adsense policies to write comments that are against terms of service, then reporting on his own comments. "

Not impossible. A lot of the babble coming from AC’s have contained nothing but "bomb flag" words and sentences, such as that "America must…" wordwall spam-bomb.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The same BS youtube have.

That is an utter nonsense conflatation. Monopolistic doesn’t just mean "big company I don’t like". It is common corporate behavior to try to minimize any possible liability. Consistency of action with policy is a common ass-covering measure both legally and for personal career interests.

Glenn says:

Moderation for comment spam is good; punishment for such digital vandals should be the same as for real-world vandals. Moderation for verbal assault threatening real, physical harm is good. Everything else is just censorship. Censorship is bad. Censorship is the opposite of Freedom of Speech. This country is supposed to be all about Freedom of Speech, but apparently there are too many un-Americans who believe the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are merely a hindrance to living a "good life" where you don’t have to be bothered by the thoughts of others that make you feel… nervous (might make you think you’re not the only person in the world). Granted, there’s a difference between govt. censorship and censorship by private entities. Granted, the devil may be in the broken technical, digital details (which ultimately is just bad code serving a bad idea). Still, a pervasive attitude that anyone must be "protected" from hearing the thoughts and words of others that might make one feel… nervous (!) is not an attitude I can support or condone.

Some comment bothers you? …get over it. You can bet your views have the same effect on many others. And you all have the same basic human rights to think and feel and believe what you choose to. Moderation notwithstanding.

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William Null says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"That sunflower you posted photo of looks surprisingly like our president"

Is that political? When it becomes political? And who has the authority to say that something is 100% political? Finally, many forums have or should have an "Offtopic" section where such discussions/posts can be moved to without being REmoved.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"And who has the authority to say that something is 100% political?"

The people whose property you’re using to say it.

"Finally, many forums have or should have an "Offtopic" section where such discussions/posts can be moved to without being REmoved."

Or, they can say "this forum is for gardening only, GTFO if you want to derail those conversations"

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'I don't get it, my favorite site is filled with trolls now...'

The only content that should be moderated is narrowly defined spam (as in, unsolicited advertising messages) and content that is malicious or outright illegal (CP, posts containing links to malware, etc.)

The rallying cry of people who really don’t like the fact that platforms have standards and keep kicking the assholes off, or those ignorant(willfully or not) of what that would actually result in.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 'I don't get it, my favorite site is filled with trolls

Or sites could save time and tell them to bugger off and find their own sites to post on, which would keep their current users from having to deal with the trolls until they got bored of posting disgusting but perfectly legal content.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The only content that should be moderated is narrowly defined spam (as in, unsolicited advertising messages) and content that is malicious or outright illegal (CP, posts containing links to malware, etc.)

Should a site refuse to moderate racist speech? It’s legal, after all.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Speak all you want, just not here

It’s amazing how many people struggle with(or pretend not to understand) the simple concept of ‘free speech has never included the ability to co-opt someone else’s property to speak from‘, leading to the mistaken belief that a person and/or platform telling someone ‘not on my property’ is a violation of the would-be speaker’s freedom of speech.

rasz_pl says:

You said bad words about google, bad Mike, bad!

There are whole industries banned from adwords, like repair and data recovery if you arent a huge corporation. "We need to discuss Google’s anti-repair advertising discrimination." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUBJ2LD-Dao

meanwhile Youtube runs ads for pr0n and scammers :))
https://www.reddit.com/r/youtube/comments/i877ci/those_fake_crypto_currency_scam_livestreams_are/
https://www.reddit.com/r/youtube/comments/i87jfj/vpn_cumshot_porn_to_advert_on_youtube/

aerinai (profile) says:

Side Note:

So… twitter has a ‘verified account’ concept where you can get vetted — why the hell can’t ad agencies have something similar? Like a list of companies that take extra scrutiny before they are banhammered… CNN isn’t known for nazi propaganda… why let automated filters blanketban them because the filter got it wrong? The same thing here — if you are of X size or pay X for some guarantee of being left alone (mostly), that would seem fair.

But alas… we can’t have nice things…

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Maybe it's just Google

I have recently (last week or two) been running into captchas just to view some pages. I don’t think these captchas were put up by the page owners, because why would they? I wasn’t logging in or trying to comment, just viewing the page. Then there was the time where I had the page open, a page that allows comments, and when I refreshed the page to see new comments, I got the captcha. It makes me wonder if someone is attacking Google by making them look nefarious?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Maybe it's just Google

Check the bottom of the test… bet it says cloudflare.

I’ve been running into the ZOMG you have a virus thats why we have to make sure you are a real person before allowing you into the site, now take this annoying non google captcha test & accept you did something wrong & it is in no way our shit being over zealous.

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danderbandit (profile) says:

You can, but SHOULD you?

I agree with the statement that ‘moderation at scale is impossible’, and the amount of data going thru Twitter, Facebook, et al; make moderation near impossible.
But I keep coming back to that old saying ‘They were so excited to be able to do it, they never stopped to think whether or not they should do it". For "it" insert whatever dystopia causing wonder-tech you can think of.

That these platforms have the possibility of being a great boon to a lot of people is not in doubt. But have you met ‘people’ lately?

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: You can, but SHOULD you?

But I keep coming back to that old saying ‘They were so excited to be able to do it, they never stopped to think whether or not they should do it".

…that’s not an old saying, it’s a line from Jurassic Park.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You can, but SHOULD you?

Jurassic Park is old stuff to lots of people these days to my chagrin. But here’s something even we might consider an old saying: The perfect is the enemy of the better. When Mike says, moderation is impossible at scale, he hopefully isn’t making excuses for big, money grubbing tech companies to profit from people dumping their crap on the rest of use (a classic example of an economic externality) They might only be able to do imperfect moderation, but any of these companies could make moderation much better by spending, oh, say, several billion dollars on the project and assigning some of their best technical and business minds. For example, to reduce the amount of false advertising or promoted postings. But, wait, that would not only cost but it would also reduce advertising revenue and yes, that’s impossible for companies that really do put profits ahead of our collective safety and sanity.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You can, but SHOULD you?

"When Mike says, moderation is impossible at scale, he hopefully isn’t making excuses for big, money grubbing tech companies to profit from people dumping their crap on the rest of use"

No, he’s saying that it’s literally impossible. Throwing obscene amounts of money that the problem in a way that ensure that they will never be able to have competitors (since any competitor would also need to do the same) won’t magically change reality.

It can be improved, for sure, but you’re insane if you think it can ever be perfect.

hatetosayit says:

Brought on by....

The entire "advertising" business model has brought it on themselves
its gone completely unchecked – the advertising has gotten way out of hand
I visit valid sites – well known reputable sites – that have ads (because if i don’t disable ad blocker – i cant view them) however then my antivirus program goes spastic every click on the page because it sees something in the advertisements that it doesn’t like.
So for the MOST part i have adblocker on – and don’t see them at all on 99% of the sites i visit.
Now google is trying to dictate what is on every page – your content is probably fine (although google may certainly not like criticism against themselves) they deserve 99% of it though. But i’ll bet comments are doing it in. their solution – i bet would be to moderate EVERY single comment – to the point where no one could really have any serious comments/arguments on any topic. you could say – hi , hey i like that comment, or I don’t like that comment. that’s it.

This is what the whole bs about regulating "free speech"/ content moderation comes down to .. no one can ever comply with it – unless it’s a static page.
that’s what they want

do we all silently comply and give it to them? Sacrifice free speech?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The tech industry highlighted by 1 thought…

We aren’t out of touch, it is the children.

We made a $900 dollar ‘juicer’ that only crushes our special pouches.
There is no way a human hand can squeeze out more juice (it can) there is no way our pouches can have issues (mold laughs at you).

Therenos – nuff said.

The cops who put the mom & 4 kids on the ground in handcuffs b/c they were driving a stolen motorcycle that they cleverly disguised as a mini-van. The tech can’t be wrong, it must be reality thats the problem.

We made this software to do something, any errors are your fault not ours. We don’t need to explain anything, you KNOW you did wrong our program said so.

And in more stupid Google tricks…
All of my accounts got signed out, signing back in they have to check it is me, put in the password, Okay to make sure you really really safe you should add or update the recovery email OR give us your home address.
o_O
What in the actual unholy fsck?

That One Guy (profile) says:

As it seems pretty clear that Google decided to harass and threaten your income both directly and indirectly for what simply must be ideological reasons I’ve no doubt that the people who were decrying Google pulling ads from the Federalist will be tripping over themselves to defend TD’s unfair and unjust treatment here. I mean, it’s not like they’d want to expose themselves as raging hypocrites by showing that they only consider that sort of treatment problematic when it comes to sites that they like after all…

That out of the way I can only guess that Google recently tweaked their systems in some way and it’s going nuts flagging content for insane reasons, because outside of a human being at Google with a serious grudge against TD and a warped mind to match it sounds like their systems were going completely bonkers.

Hopefully they can fix whatever madness they added to their software and get back to just issuing vague and useless ‘fix some problem located at some part of your site’ warnings, but until then good luck finding a replacement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The trouble is that it is not clear that it is google doing this or even why. Burning computer cycles sounds more like a criminal gang has found a way to abuse google’s adds to mine currency. False detection of stuff might also be some kind of add hack to harass enemies of some Mr. Who.
So we got nothing, and it is turned off, so no prospect of finding out either.

So like the man said, “Content moderation is hard.”

Bill W (profile) says:

False phishing flags

I get a forum summary report from Wingware (python IDE) daily and nearly every single one is flagged as a phishing attempt. It frequently is a short list of two or three posts to their forum, just the titles with no significant content. I have reported it as non-phishing message every single time but that seems to do nothing at all despite the pop-up messages that are displayed.

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Anonymous Coward says:

I think it’s healthy to remind yourself that this isn’t necessarily about your site specifically. As we approach the US election season, it’s very likely that massive influence campaigns (foreign and domestic) are ramping up. A lot of phishing attempts try to disguise themselves as popular newsletters, and a lot of nefarious websites scrape content from legitimate ones; they also frequently link to legit websites that have at least some superficial ideological resemblance as part of trying to boost search ranks. (Like, for example, you do frequently defend Russian and Chinese interests, which makes you a natural choice for this sort of thing.)

Google’s algorithms (as ever) appear to be getting swamped by the deluge of nefarious actors. Things will probably be better after the election.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

After the election one of two things will happen:

1) Trump wins (*) and he and his continue with their mendacity.

2) Biden wins (*) and some 40% of the population goes apeshit. If we’re lucky, all they do is make this mess worse.

The one thing that definitely won’t happen is that this situation improves in any way.

    • Assuming he is still alive come the election.
ECA (profile) says:

How far to look into this? Tin hat time.

Lets see.
How to do this.
report TD to adsense..
Make many accounts that report TD? Possible.
Create a keyword, that triggers Adsense. Possible.

How about an account name thats a key. Possible?

Does the report have a REAL time and date? As that could be a clue, as being reported at an exact time. That way they can report the front page, as the article was there. Which would be an adsense failure, not naming the Article itself. And would fit most of the above Possibles.

Could you ask for proof of the problem? isnt that part of a solution? AS its important to figure what the problem is, and you dont REALLY need the names of those sending Complaints.
As this is Blocking your Business from making a small amount of money..(Which I thought was against the law) interferring with your right to make money.

John85851 (profile) says:

More false phishing flags

I get a newsletter from the Small Business Development Center in Florida which talks resources for small businesses during the COVID pandemic. Every so often, there are links to surveys that they’ll pass along to lawmakers and there are stories about other small businesses that are doing well during the pandemic.

I have a GMail account and almost every single one of their newsletters is put into my Spam folder and labeled as a phishing attempt! Really? A newsletter that helps small business from a government agency? Really?
And even clicking "not spam" doesn’t seem to help since the next newsletter is still labeled as a phishing attempt!

So, yes, there’s something going on with Google’s filters. Maybe they think every mention of COVID-19 is somehow misinformation or phishing.
And I apologize if mentioning COVID-19 this innocently causes Google to say this entire page is bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: More false phishing flags

Every so often, there are links to surveys that they’ll pass along to lawmakers …

These have been showing up on Techdirt also. But … they ARE phishing schemes. They don’t care about your opinion, in the sense that they might change their voting-record if enough dunces disagree with it. But they want your email address (and a rough gauge of your general political opinion) so they can spam you with appropriately-tailored pleas for more money–because what we all need now is more money spent on political hatemongering.

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Koby (profile) says:

If they claim that there were policy violations, yet can’t explain what the violations are, then it’s not a policy violation. It’s because they disagree. Their corporate advertisers hate when their copyright maximalist policies are ridiculed. Telecoms can’t stand when their bogus fees and high price monopolies get exposed. And the sponsors grind their teeth at the mention of data breaches.

Good faith systems can explain what went wrong so that they can be fixed and remedied. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

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Waitman (profile) says:

content violations

I’m admin for a forum that has been online since the 90’s and had same thing happen last year. Flagging posts that had been online for years. As soon as we deleted one post another would alert would appear. There would be a big blank space where the ads would be, so we got rid of it. A local law firm picks up a good chunk of the slack but more woud be better! So many ad blockers in use anyway… locally hosted static ads aren’t blocked.

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Anonymous Coward says:

I can understand why Google (or any entity–my own experience was with the Open Directory Project) is extremely reticent about violations of policy. You attract a very-determined ilk of serial-policy-violators who will constantly complain about not being told which policy they violated, when what they really want to know is how you figured out they were sneakily violating your policy. That is (in my experience, which amounts to several years full-time volunteer work) at least 99% of the complaints.

Which makes dealing with complaints difficult. First you have to determine whether they’re real complaints or sneaks spying on your sneak-spotting protocols (which takes time, they’re sneaky!) Then you have to determine whether they’re just too stupid to be a contributing member of society no matter what you tell them. That all takes lots of work, simply to determine that you OUGHT NOT to respond.

The honest problems, honestly, are EXTREMELY likely to get lost in the sludge.

I don’t have a solution.

If I had to speculate, I’d wonder if some of the trolls in the comments section (or, face it, some of the respondents to them) spewed enough hatred or contempt to trigger a flag. Caveat: I have no experience or direct knowledge relating to AdSense, so all I can give is a generic perspective.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"If I had to speculate, I’d wonder if some of the trolls in the comments section (or, face it, some of the respondents to them) spewed enough hatred or contempt to trigger a flag."

There HAVE been AC’s who persistently enter a "comment" with copy-pasted content which amounts to nothing more than a daisy-chain of flag-triggers – some thirty-forty short contextless sentences which appear lifted straight from some religious/political extremist propaganda site.

And Baghdad Bob/Bobmail/OOTB/Jhon Smith, has often and happily added a lot of…extremely inflammatory commentary about recent events, often using descriptive ethnic or religious slurs to make his "case".

Anonymous Coward says:

Considering the pages, including ads, were making computers run hot and were obviously bad actors, could it be possible that Google is indirectly flagging its own ads on those web page urls?

A chrome user goes to that web page and loads a malformed ad, hosted by Google, and Google chrome realizes that the user’s computer is acting suspiciously. That user’s Google chrome instance then sends a report to Google that it is on a web page with a URL of such and such and it’s likely a bad actor. Google corporate then sends you a message that your site is acting suspiciously and you might have been hacked. Furthermore, emails originating from your domain are flagged as potential phishing attempts in case of the same.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

The trouble is that it is not clear that it is google doing this or even why. Burning computer cycles sounds more like a criminal gang has found a way to abuse google’s adds to mine currency. False detection of stuff might also be some kind of add hack to harass enemies of some Mr. Who.
So we got nothing, and it is turned off, so no prospect of finding out either.

So like the man said, “Content moderation is hard.”

WDS says:

Daily Deals

"Also, Google told them that we were engaging in "clickspam" by hiding our ads to make them look like regular content, and that needed to be fixed immediately. The problem is — we don’t do that and have never done that. Our ads were always in the right hand column and clearly called out as ads."

Is it possible that the Daily Deals are what they are referring to here? I don’t object to them, but they are for all practical purposes ads that appear as content.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Daily Deals

I see. They are formatted as content (because they are both content and ads), which is why They also have the clear daily deals headers and disclaimer on them. But there is no deception and even without those it’s not set up to get people to accidentally click on it. The links in techdirt articles are references ; there is no reason people would go around clicking the article links without reading first.

Steve says:

Just a heads up Techdirt admins I did some sleuthing and I would bet this is the post causing your issues:
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20200729/15213445005/moderation-racist-content-leads-to-removal-non-racist-pages-posts-2020.shtml

That page contains the word "skinhead" multiple times and other related terms which would trigger a dangerous and derogatory policy violation automatically by AdSense. The post also appears on other disctinct URLs on the site like ?tag=content-moderation so ultimately the terms appears on many pages.

If you go to Google AdWords and try to bid on the keyword "skinhead" you’ll see you can’t because it violates Google’s dangerous and derogatory content policy. This is a good way to test for other words that trigger policy violations. My suggestion would be to disable AdSense serving on pages that contain sensitive content about racism, sex, terrorism, etc or to create a word blacklist to internally handle how to display sensative terms without ad content alongside them.

Google’s policies do make sense on the macro level. Most advertisers do not want their ads to appear on pages about white nationalism and most large advertisers like Disney or Coca Cola use brand safety companies to control what pages their ads appear on. Since not every advertiser has the resources to work with brand safety firms Google uses policy violations to flag publishers on their network and obviously errors can occur but techdirt.com represents an extremely negligible amount of revenue and traffic for them so better safe than sorry on their part.

Also it’s possible the other issue you had with being flagged for phishing may be from sending email newsletters which contains snippets of recent blog posts which mention Google. Hard to diagnose that but you do have many recent posts about Google on your site.

Rishtfh (user link) says:

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