A Tilburg University banner showed up on the far-right news site Breitbart. Is the university recruiting students on ultra-conservative platforms in the United States now, or is something else going on here?
‘Tilburg University advertises on far-right site Breitbart’, local news broadcaster Omroep Brabant reported on Tuesday, after a philosophy student alerted the university on Twitter.
Breitbart.com is not a place where you would expect to find an ad for the Tilburg University bachelor’s program in human resource studies. The controversial website is America’s loudest cheerleader for ultra-right ideologies, and a notorious distributor of fake news. Tineke Bennema, the spokesperson of Tilburg University, confirmed that the university’s ads on Breitbart are not the result of targeted advertising.
Hey @TilburgU I am sure you weren’t aware of this. I am one of your students and I believe advertising at platforms like Breitbart is against your vision of society. Please consider blocking them, as this reflects bad on all of us. @slpng_giants_eu can help you with this. https://t.co/esWBGyNEhc
— Chris (@casual_humanist) 11 maart 2018
It’s not the first time Tilburg University banners unintentionally show up on Breitbart, Bennema said. “Last year, we became aware that ads were placed on Breitbart via an advertising partner without our permission. We notified this partner, and we blocked the web pages.”
So why did Tilburg University ads continue to pop up on Breitbart.com? “The reason the ads have reappeared is a technical matter and has to do with Google,” Bennema said. It’s possible for old content to resurface in Google’s advertisement systems, Bennema explained, allowing Tilburg University banners to show up on Breitbart despite the current block.
Tilburg University is not the first advertiser to unwittingly appear on controversial sites. The Dutch Cancer Society had to remove its ads from an alt-right site, dance festival Pitch ended up on the ultra-nationalist platform Liefdevoorholland.com, and Starbucks and Coca Cola found their ads to be appearing next to YouTube videos promoting hate speech.
Online advertisement is tricky business, as companies generally have little control over where their ads are shown. Although blocking certain sites is possible, this evidently doesn’t always suffice.
The university has sought the assistance of experts to keep its ads from showing up on dubious websites in the future. “We can’t fully guarantee that our ads will not appear on Breitbart, but we have sought the help of online advertising advice agencies to ensure that it won’t happen as easily.”