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How do you stop media that distributes false news with hateful intent? Well, convincing companies to stop advertising with that media is one sure way to start. And Breitbart – a leading site for right-wing “news”  that was co-founded by Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon – is now the perfect example of such an effort.

A total of 818 companies agreed to block Breitbart.com as a distributor of their online advertisements. And not just tiny little companies or political causes, either. Huge corporations like Hewlett Packard, Mercedes-Benz, 3M, and T-Mobile joined the slate.

And how much will that cost Breitbart, which had over 85 million pageviews in December 2016? It would have to be a rough estimate, but even a conservative guess shows this effort could be quite costly upon the site.

The average rate of a website’s revenue for typical display ads is $2.80 per 1,000 pageviews. High traffic sites and ones that specialize in topic earn much more, though; for example, Huffington Post earns about $6.25 per 1,000, while Politico gets an estimated $50-$60. And large companies, such as those blacklisting Breitbart, typically offer higher cost-per-click amounts to ensure distribution on high-traffic sites with ideal ad placement.

If this blacklisting of Breitbart, which features four Google ads per page, were to knock down the cost of its ad spots from $2.80 to $2 per 1,000, this would amount to a $3.2 million loss in the site’s annual revenue. And given the high traffic to this specialized-topic website, meaning its average pageview revenue could be much higher, the loss could be much, much more.

This effort to have advertisers blacklist Breitbart began recently, and from the online group “Sleeping Giants,” which formed in November 2016. Contemplating results of the recent election, group founders say:

“It became immediately clear to us that the proliferation of racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic news was significant. […] Investigating who was responsible for paying for these articles, we found that advertisers were, in fact, plentiful. Big ones and small ones. Each was paying websites like Breitbart News, the biggest of all of these sources, millions of dollars to advertise there.”

The group doesn’t attack the companies whose ads appear on the site, however, recognizing that online ad distribution targets specific audiences, not the sites those audiences visit.

“(T)hey had no idea that their ads were appearing on these sites because of what is called ‘programmatic advertising,’ a complex web of ad placement that targets individuals instead of specific sites.”

Sleeping Giants’ response is to simply let those companies know that their ads are appearing on Breitbart, requesting they block the site from its slate of ad distribution. The group also suggests petitioning of those companies.

And with a total of 818 responses in less than three months, it’s apparent that the effort is working.

Of course, Breitbart attempted to respond in kind, calling for a boycott one of the corporations (Kellog’s), even suggesting this blacklisting was “hate.” In a December 2016 article regarding “#DumpKellogs,” the site posted:

“Breakfast Brand Blacklists Breitbart, Declares Hate For 45,000,000 Viewers”

This counter-campaign apparently didn’t work, however, since the number of advertisers blocking the site quickly grew.

Surprisingly, Breitbart had substantial surge in online traffic after the November presidential election. In June 2016, it ranked at roughly 1,000th of all website domains in Internet traffic, according to site ranker Alexa. It moved up to approximately 750th in November 2016, but shot up dramatically beginning the next month.

In December 2016, Breitbart.com soared to 243 in Alexa’s ranking of all website traffic worldwide, and 37th highest of Internet traffic originating from the United States.

According to site traffic tracker SimilarWeb, Breitbart’s visitors also frequent similar sites known to distribute questionable and even fake news, including The Gateway Pundit and InfoWars.  Breitbart blocks some site trackers from releasing its viewer demographic data, though.

Evaluation of news websites by a university communications professor identifies Breitbart as “unreliable” and with “bias.”

A recent Morning Consult poll found that only 19 percent of the online community of American adults regard Breitbart content to be credible. That’s only one percent more than the number who actually believe the obviously satirical content of The Onion.


Featured image by Win McNamee/Getty Images

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