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Hunting Group Fights Back Google Censorship and Wins

Gabriella Hoffman
by Gabriella Hoffman Read Profile arrow_right_alt

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), one of the nation’s prominent conservation groups, had a paid Google ad banned and later restored.

In a press release issued yesterday, RMEF CEO Kyle Weaver applauded members of the Montana delegation in Congress for helping rectifying the issue with Google ads.

“We greatly appreciate the immediate actions of Representative Gianforte and Senator Daines,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “As Montanans and sportsmen, they understand, value and cherish our hunting heritage as well as RMEF’s conservation mission. Without their quick and effective response, our ability to promote ethical hunting and vital conservation work would be hindered.”

The press release added:

RMEF recently sought to apply paid advertising behind a short hunting video in the form of a Google ad, as it has done scores of times in the past. Instead of approval, RMEF received an email stating “any promotions about hunting practices, even when they are intended as a healthy method of population control and/or conservation, is considered as animal cruelty and deemed inappropriate to be shown on our network.”

RMEF—a conservation group that bills itself as an organization that works to “ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage”— was notified on April 25th their paid ad featuring a video of former RMEF board member Nancy Hadley was rejected on “animal cruelty grounds.” The video in question can be found below:

“We’ve had a Google ad account for eight or nine years,” RMEF spokesman Mark Holyoak told Missoulian on Monday. “Like so many businesses and organizations out there, it’s an important part of our outreach.”

“We try to push out and promote responsible, ethical hunting,” Holyoak added. “It goes hand-in-hand with the emphasis on our mission to ensure future of elk, wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage. This was no different than any other piece we’ve put out.”

The Billings Gazette obtained Google’s email to RMEF. It read like this:

On May 3rd, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) issued this letter calling on Google CEO, Sundar Pinchai, to restore ad privileges to RMEF and requested a meeting with him “to discuss the importance of Montana’s and the United States’ hunting heritage.” Here’s the letter:

In an email to The Resurgent, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) said Google should self-correct mistakes without pressure from lawmakers.

“This was absurd,” he said. “It shouldn’t take intervention from a United States Senator to get Google to approve ads from a respected sportsman’s group.”

Even President Trump’s son, avid hunter and sportsman Donald Trump Jr., weighed in on the matter:

Here’s Google’s initial reasoning for why it barred RMEF’s ad on the platform, citing alleged “animal cruelty” and being inappropriate:

The advertisement went to Google’s Ad Network, which places the sponsored results above any Google search. In an email provided by Daines and Gianforte, a Google Support representative states “any promotions about hunting practices, even when they are intended as a healthy method of population control and/or conservation, is considered as animal cruelty and deemed inappropriate to be shown on our network. I can imagine how displeasing this could be to hear as you would like to promote this video so that you can show hunting in a positive manner, however, we are also bound by our policies and protocols and according to Google’s policies, promotions such as these cannot be allowed to run.”

Many hunting groups aren’t as lucky to get Google to restore their ad privileges

Brad Luttrell, co-founder the outdoor app GoWild, said in an email to The Resurgent that bans like this aren’t nothing new. In fact, he said his app was blocked from advertising in 2017 on vaguely defined violations to terms to now being labeled as animal cruelty and violent in nature.

“Digital and social media giants have been blocking hunting and firearms content to some degree for years,” Luttrell said. “GoWild has had variations of content and advertisements blocked on four of the main social and digital platforms.”

Luttrell added that while there is bias against firearms and hunting content, many of these platforms are relying on machine learning to identify types of images. The problem with this machine learning technology, he said, is that hunting and firearms content is often lumped in with images pertaining to nudity or true violence.

“Today, users of these platforms are offended when their content is censored or deleted. That problem will not exist tomorrow because technology will not need to censor your voice, it can just identify it and limit its reach using machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

RMEF was lucky to have a lot of external pressure from public figures and politicians, but other groups who don’t have those connections need to be vigilant.

“Brands need to be mindful of who’s holding the basket in which they’ve placed all of their eggs,” said Luttrell. “The best solution is to diversify your advertising with layers of mainstream, niche, and traditional advertising, and to apply the same for your content.”


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