Every few years a website somewhere on the internet decides that it's a good idea to treat ad block technology users like violent criminals. You might recall a few years back when Ars Technica whined a bit
about how ad blocking was "destroying" the websites you love. As we noted at the time
, if your ads are so obnoxious that they have users running to block them, that says more than about your advertising choices, management and business model than it does your users. As we also discussed in great detail
, there are a myriad of ways that users bring value to a community, outside of forcing their eyeballs to stare at ads.
You might recall that a few years back the Escapist
website launched a rather misguided attack on ad blocking technology, banning users in the website's forums for simply mentioning Adblock. The since-deleted thread in question involved a user complaining about a specific ad that seemed to be slowing down his machine's performance, to which responders suggested that he might want to try AdBlock. Those users, who didn't even state that they used Adblock themselves
, found themselves completely banned from the forums. After some Internet-wide hysteria over the ham-fisted nature of that decision, Escapist
backed off the policy, unbanned the users, and then just tried to shame all of them into feeling guilty
Fast forward a few years, and it's not particularly clear that the website has learned much of anything from the experience. In a video rant by The Escapist's reviews editor Jim Sterling
, Sterling acknowledges that he doesn't think using Adblock is technically stealing, and he blames bad advertisers and bad advertising for a lot of the problem. Still, he apparently believes that using Adbblock is very, very naughty, you should feel horrible, and if you want to get back on the right side of morality you should send him toys (he provides a handy link to his Amazon wishlist). But it's the Escapist forums
where things continue to be, well, weird.
Users still seem to get banned if they so much as mention the word Adblock outside of threads specifically designed to discuss Adblock. Even in the thread specifically designed to discuss Adblock and Sterling's video about Adblock
, the thread is pockmarked by moderation where users are given repeated slaps on the wrist for simply discussing the website's ad choices. Unsurprisingly, users then get confused about what the hell they can and can't talk about:
"Can mods give clarification on how we're to discuss this? Normally adblock threads are instantly closed with participants warned and if there's to even be a comments section for this video they'll have to be some sort of exception."
On page six
staff member "Kross" tries to explain the website's thinking on banning the very mention of an incredibly common Internet tool:
"...in order to save our very overworked moderators from having to deal with constant sophistry on what does or does not constitute discussion, we've added the line that says don't talk about it at all. Very little of use was lost (people on a non-advertising forum that isn't read by anyone who makes such decisions can no longer talk about a topic that only causes more work for moderators), but threads like this can open the discussion in a more controlled manner."
I've moderated a significantly larger Internet forum (DSLReports.com) driven almost solely by ads for almost fifteen years now. I can't even imagine the epic shitstorm we would face if I started blaming our users for failures in our business model, then started banning everyone who talked about a common technology I just happened to dislike. I do know such a position would be an utterly ingenious way to drive our userbase away. Kross proceeds to explain to users that life as an Internet website is hard
, effectively admitting that massive annoying ads tend to show up more on the website because they pay so much:
"AS FAR AS OBNOXIOUS ADS are concerned, they come from two directions. One is from an advertiser saying "hey we know this is obnoxious, but we'll pay you SEVERAL TIMES MORE per view for this because it is so obnoxious. The other is from "filler ads" that bring in a whole network. When we can't run targeted ads (due to nobody wanting to buy that space or not being selected for the ad lottery that month and getting no real ads) we run filler ads, which are a network that we tell "give us X categories of ads". These networks allow us to retro-actively block certain ads, but we mostly rely on them to block "bad" ads from getting through."
Obviously it's the Escapist
's forum and it's certainly their prerogative to do anything they see fit, including banning the discussion of waffles, aardvarks, acrylic painting and recombination gene technology. Still, I don't see the logic in being this adversarial with your userbase, then expecting it to help drive up site revenues when you're the one fracturing and annoying the community with horrible ad choices and bans (hyperbole + blame + censorship surely = profit!). If it's your obnoxious ad choices that are driving users to Adblock in the first place, then fix your obnoxious ad choices. That's not on users, it's on you. Don't beat your users about the head and face with censorship and public shaming because you can't adapt to a new market reality you just happen to dislike.