Tech giants Twitter and Google blocked advertisements for a special issue of the medical journal Health Affairs that focused on racism and health, the companies have claimed.
The peer-reviewed journal’s latest issue, released last week, includes articles on the sexual and reproductive health of Black women in the South, racial bias in electronic health records, health and police encounters, and inequity in the use of home health agencies, the Verge reported.
To reach new readers, the journal aimed at targeted advertisements on social media platforms Twitter and YouTube.
It hoped to use the ads to draw in a new audience to the special issue, Patti Sweet, the director of the digital strategy at Health Affairs, was quoted as saying.
However, the platforms blocked it. Besides ads the journal’s Google ads account was also suspended.
While the journal maintained that the use of the word “racism” was the trigger for the rejections, according to Twitter and Google, the ads were blocked due to policies around advocacy and Covid-19.
This highlights how health research sometimes doesn’t fit neatly into categories used by tech companies to flag potentially problematic content, making it challenging for them to push out credible information when certain keywords pop up, the report said.
According to Google, it blocked the journal’s ads because the video the advertisements were for discussed Covid-19, communications and public affairs manager Christa Muldoon told The Verge.
Ads for content that mentions Covid-19 have to follow the company’s “sensitive events” policy, which blocks ads “that potentially profit from or exploit a sensitive event”.
In a statement, Twitter said that the ads were blocked under the “cause-based” policy, which requires advertisers to get certified before publishing ads that “educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity causes”.
Twitter’s caused-based ad policy was put into place in November 2019 as part of its regulation of political ads aimed at protecting against bad actors co-opting the platform and covers topics from climate change to animal rights, the report said.
Health Affairs also claimed to have got a notice for an ad taken down by Twitter under the “inappropriate content” policy.
The ad was similar to the ones flagged under the cause-based policy and described how the special issue focused on racism and health.
Any ad would have been denied under the same cause-based policy, Twitter spokesperson Laura Pacas said in an email to The Verge.
However, Sweet stated that Health Affairs does not fall under the type of advocacy category that Twitter’s policy, for example, is set up to target.
“We’re not a political organisation, but when a machine sees ‘health policy’, they might assume politics,” Sweet said. “And when they see us talking about racism and health, they might assume we are advocating on behalf of something for politicians. So, the brand is awkwardly in a nowhere land.”
Health Affairs got its caused-based certification for Twitter this week and plans to resubmit its ads.
Sweet said the Google ads account is also back on after she submitted appeals. She’s hoping her team can now redirect the spotlight to the research, rather than the conflict with the tech companies, the report said.