In recent years, people on both sides of the political divide have accused YouTube and its parent company, Google, of being biased against their viewpoints — and the latest battle in this culture war involves Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute, the sponsor of the annual Western Conservative Summit.
Institute director Jeff Hunt says that Google rejected an ad for its new documentary, America! America! God Shed His Grace on Thee, fifteen times and only approved it after he secured help from the conservative Media Research Center, which bills itself as "America's Media Watchdog." MRC's version of these events on its News Busters blog, headlined "Google and YouTube Censored Ad Promoting Christianity in America," casts the actions in dark terms, as epitomized by this excerpt:
The trailer was rejected for three reasons: “shocking content,” “missing information,” and “sensitive events.” According to Google’s ad policies, content that is considered “dangerous or derogatory” is not allowed. “Shocking content” may include “Promotions containing violent language, gruesome or disgusting imagery, or graphic images or accounts of physical trauma,” “Promotions containing gratuitous portrayals of bodily fluids or waste,” “Promotions containing obscene or profane language,” or “Promotions that are likely to shock or scare.” None of these things can be found in the trailer.
A Google spokesperson confirms the general rationale under which the ad was originally nixed, but denies any nefarious intent or ideological prejudice. According to the company's statement, "Our sensitive events policy was implemented at the start of the coronavirus outbreak to protect users from harmful advertiser behavior such as price-gouging. In this instance, our automated systems mistakenly flagged the content, as it includes mentions of COVID and imagery of face masks. We regret the error and the ads are now eligible to run. We enforce our policies consistently, regardless of political or religious affiliation, but have appeals processes in place specifically for circumstances like this. We have contacted the advertiser to resolve this issue and have reinstated the ads."
While the Centennial Institute largely flies using its right wing, Hunt insists that America! America! "is not designed to be a partisan film. Pelosi and Biden are featured more in it than Trump is. It's really a call back to faith and its importance in the formation of the nation — and it also has what I think is the last in-depth interview with Herman Cain," a former Republican presidential candidate who died from COVID-19 following his attendance at a June 20 Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at which masks and social distancing were rare. But Hunt notes that Cain "went to the hospital a few days after we interviewed him, and no one else ended up getting sick."
Hunt believes the trailer for the doc, which is set to debut at the 2020 virtual Western Conservative Summit on October 20, "isn't bad at all. It has three jokes in there and pokes fun at everybody in a bipartisan manner. It's not shocking content, it doesn't depict sensitive events, and the fact that it was labeled that way by Google and YouTube was concerning to us."
Here's the trailer:
In the beginning, Google blocked the trailer because of incomplete information provided on its Google AdWords platform; Hunt references "tax ID numbers and stuff like that." But even after these gaps were filled, the trailer still wasn't running, and after some investigation, Hunt learned the stated problems involved "shocking content" and "sensitive events."
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According to a source at Google, an automated system that reviews ads tagged the America! America! video for sensitive content because of a brief mention of COVID-19 at its 1:29 minute mark, as well as a quick image of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden wearing a face mask. The trailer was also labeled for political content because elected officials appear in it, and political ads are processed differently to make sure that viewers know who paid for them. As for the "shocking content" designation, it was inspired by a snippet showing a protester being hit by a car that was also caught by the automated system.
Upon review, however, Google determined that the trailer wasn't a political ad, but instead a documentary intended for educational purposes. At that point, the flags were removed and the trailer began appearing online within 24 hours, the source maintains.
Hunt doesn't directly accuse Google of targeting CCU and the Centennial Institute, but says, "We're still not getting clear answers about this. There's nothing shocking in the trailer — maybe five seconds that show rioting. It's very short, and yet we were put in the same category as sexual body fluids."
If there was discrimination involved, he contends, "We wouldn't be the first."