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Google Suspends Ads on Antiwar.com for Publishing Newsworthy Photo of Ukraine Massacre

Google has suspended Antiwar.com from its AdSense network over the site's publishing of an Associated Press photo of a massacre committed by the government of Ukraine, raising questions about whether Google's policies on gory images are too strict on reporters and political activists who post newsworthy controversial content.

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Barry Donegan
Barry Donegan is a writer, musician, and pro-liberty political activist living in Nashville, TN. Donegan served as Director-at-Large of the Davidson County Republican Party from 2009-2011 and was the Middle Tennessee Regional Coordinator over 30 counties for Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential Campaign. Follow him at facebook.com/barry.donegan and twitter.com/barrydonegan

Google’s AdSense network is a crucial monetization tool for many websites that provide free content to the public. Antiwar.com, a site that has relentlessly promoted non-interventionist foreign policy views through the publication of news and world events that relate to the outbreak of war, has relied on AdSense to pay the bills of late. However, Google controversially suspended the site from its network on Wednesday, initially for publishing Abu Ghraib prison photos, citing AdSense’s policy against violent and gory images.

Google outlined its policies on violence and gore in an email to Antiwar.com, which said, “VIOLENCE/GORE: As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on pages with violent or disturbing content, including sites with gory text or images.”

Gawker‘s Alex Pareene covered the controversy over Antiwar.com‘s content and pointed out, “Either Google is incorrectly enforcing its own policies, or their policies do not allow for controversial — but clearly and objectively newsworthy — content.”

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Antiwar.com appealed Google’s decision to ban the site from its ad network over the Abu Ghraib photos and was told on Thursday that it would be allowed back on board with AdSense. However, Google suspended Antiwar.com again the following day, this time citing an Associated Press photo of a massacre by the Ukrainian government as the basis for reigniting the ban.

Gawker pointed out the distinction that Google’s policies specifically require sites to either remove offending content from the site entirely or to remove ads from the specific page on which the content appears. Eric Garris at Antiwar.com says that the pages singled out by Google do not feature ads, meaning Antiwar.com is not in violation of Google’s policies. However, there were some remnants of ad code eventually found by Antiwar.com on some of the pages, but ads were not being delivered. Google’s process for appealing these types of bans is so complex that the tech giant requests that appeals come via snail mail.

Antiwar.com is continuing to appeal the suspension, conducting a fundraising drive to make up for lost ad revenue, and calling on supporters to push back against the policy on Google’s online forum. Said Eric Garris about the conflict, “Antiwar.com has no intention of allowing Google to dictate our content. We are looking into alternate sources of advertising and will not likely be working with Google AdSense in the future.”

While it is understandable that Google would have policies to prevent advertisers from being linked to offensive content, the fact that the policies are being implemented in such a way that there is no distinction between newsworthy content and that which is gory-for-gore’s-sake presents challenges for news and political advocacy sites that naturally deal in edgy subjects. Google’s suspension of Antiwar.com raises questions as to exactly what those policies are and what they should be.

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