Should Google have been more prepared for Youtube backlash?

27 March 2017, Blog

The Weekend Word – 26.03.2017

So popular has Google been as a search engine that it has been one of those rare brands that has made its way into the English dictionary. But this week the word means something very different to people – a brand that has failed to act responsibly, a company that has been caught on the hop by events, a business that hasn’t gone far enough with its apology and an organisation which isn’t acting quickly enough in the interests of its customers and users.

These are perceptions. But perceptions stick and can impact greatly on the reputation of your organisation. Ironically, just put Google into a search engine under Google news and you’ll see a multitude of negative stories. Major brands pulling millions of pounds in advertising by having their adverts appearing alongside extremist material and hate speech.

Theresa May’s spokesperson calling upon social media companies to do more to stop extremist material being posted. Damian Collins, who heads the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, reportedly saying that bosses should face a new offence for failing to act to remove terrorist videos and manuals from their sites. Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, questioning why Google can move very fast to remove material from YouTube when it is found to be copyrighted, but that they don’t when the content is hateful and illegal. And last but not surprisingly the media industry wading in, calling for the likes of Google to editorially control their content in the same as the mainstream media is required to do.

It’s the very viral nature of the internet, the foundation of the success of Google, that has ended up doing significant damage to the company’s reputation.

So could Google have been more prepared for the very bad week they’ve had? How could they have been more ready for the perfect storm of an uprising against extremist material and then the events of Westminster?

  1. Every company should know their reputational risks as part of any corporate risk management strategy. The fact that ad placement online is based on algorithms and is therefore to some extent uncontrollable, should have sounded the alarm bells to the Board. Did they put the profits of the business derived from advertising before their long term reputation?
  2. Whilst there has been an apology from Google, many understandably would say it’s been too little, too late. In these instances organisations need to be decisive and show that they care a damn. Instead the company’s Head of European operations, Matt Brittin appeared to be apologising just about advertisers’ brands being associated with extremist material, not the fact that the content was on the site in the first place. It has also taken a global brand backlash and a major investigation by The Times into European advertisers’ content being placed alongside such material for Google to finally respond. And still, there doesn’t seem to be any clarity or affirmation as to how Google intend to deal with the problem of extremist material. If as reported, it’s simply not enough for Brittin to promise that Google would be “looking again at how we improve what we’re doing on enforcement” with details to follow.
  3. Always be on the front foot before the media, politicians, advertisers and the public rise up against you.  It’s incredulous to think that such a corporate giant as Google could get into this position where a backlash has prompted them to take action – it’s not as if this hasn’t being going on for some time. Only last week Google’s chief business officer, Philipp Schindler was reported to have said that the company was going to hire significant numbers of people and develop new tools to improve its ability to review questionable content. Later the company said it was carrying out a review of advertising policies. Instead Google should have accepted much earlier that that the publication of extremist material could not continue as it is has been and that it was going to do everything to root it out. It should have explained the challenges with regards online advertising, that it was investing significant amounts of money to tackle the issues, and would refund money to advertisers. And, of course, this needs communicating to all key stakeholders.


It would be unthinkable that such a global brand as Google could come crashing down to earth as a result of recent events. However, they need to do a lot of thinking in the way they get their message out to the outside world. As one media commentator remarked: “The place (YouTube) looks like the wild west with the sheriff admitting he’s lost control.”

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