Earlier today, the Twitter account belonging to the Bongino Report– an aggregator of partisan news launched in 2019 by Dan Bongino, a former secret service agent turned pro-Trump right-wing pundit who regularly traffics in conspiracy theories and misinformation— indicated that Google had revoked Bongino’s AdSense account. In an email, Google confirmed that the account for Dan Bongino’s website, bongino.com, had indeed been terminated for running afoul of its AdSense publisher policies.
“We have strict publisher policies in place that explicitly prohibit misleading and harmful content around the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrably false claims about our elections,” said a Google spokesperson. “When publishers persistently breach our policies we stop serving Google ads on their sites. Publishers can always appeal a decision once they have addressed any violating content.”
On January 20, YouTube suspended a Bongino YouTube channel after it posted a video questioning the effectiveness of using masks against the coronavirus, a violation of the company’s pandemic-related misinformation policy. The one-week suspension became permanent when Bongino attempted to post the video from another account.
On its blog, Google says it terminates publishers for “egregious or persistent violations” of its policies.
Bongino sees the suspensions as validation and as promotion of his interests on alternative platforms. Bongino had courted suspension on YouTube on his podcast, according to the The New York Times. On Twitter, The Bongino Report lauded its growth on an alternative video site, Rumble, which takes a laissez-faire approach to misinformation and other problematic content. Rumble is one of a number of alternative platforms that harbor individuals banned or de-platformed from mainstream social media sites.
Rumble is also an investor in Parallel Economy, a company launched by Bongino and Jeffrey Wernick, that seeks to develop alternative payment processing systems and other ecommerce tools, part of what Reuters calls “a cottage tech industry” that is evolving “to oppose so-called cancel culture online.”
Some experts fear the rise of this alternative ecosystem will result in more extreme discourse on the right. There is some evidence that when communities leave mainstream platforms, they can grow more radical. For instance, research suggests that when users migrated off of Reddit’s subreddit r/The_Donald to a dedicated domain, the community showed increased “signals associated with toxicity and radicalization.”
Whether the commercial opportunity on alternative platforms is substantial enough to replace revenues such as those available to Google’s AdSense publishing partners remains to be seen. Claire Atkin, cofounder of Check My Ads, a nonprofit watchdog organization that has targeted Bongino and other right wing media personalities that advance false claims about the 2020 election, noted that Google’s previous suspension of Gateway Pundit, another source of public health and political misinformation, likely starved that site of substantial revenue.
Check My Ads issued a statement suggesting Google can do more to reduce the advertising revenues it shares with sites that regularly publish misinformation and other harmful forms of content. Independent researchers have explored Google’s role in propping up low quality news sites.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.