Check My Ads Illuminates Authoritarian Advertising 

*By Louis Pascarella
Time Period: 2021-Present
Location: United States, Online Campaign
Main Actors: Check My Ads Institute
Tactics Used
Online Boycotts
Social Media Campaigns

In 2021, Nandini Jammi and Claire Atkin, two professionals with backgrounds in marketing and advertising, recognized a critical unaddressed problem in the online advertising world: due to the opaque and complicated nature of algorithm-driven advertising technology (adtech), many advertisers were unwittingly funding groups tied to misinformation and hate. Major brands were discovering their ads on websites such as Breitbart, despite explicitly not wanting to advertise in such spaces. Furthermore, many of these problematic groups were linked to autocratic campaigns worldwide, including those associated with the Russian state.

To address this problem, Jammi and Atkin founded the Check My Ads Institute (originally the “Check My Ads Agency”) as a consultancy to help businesses ensure their ads were placed with reputable sites. Yet the Check My Ads Agency quickly discovered a systematic problem in the advertising technology industry. Despite advertisers’ best efforts, there is no straightforward way to ensure that advertisements do not appear on controversial platforms. Intermediaries (in many cases, the marketing agency/ad house hired to run the advertising campaign) can anonymize the names and seller account ids of where ad dollars end up, meaning a company could be funding known hate groups, without any way for them to audit that transaction. Businesses pay ad houses with the expectation that their brand will be protected from such outcomes, and yet, these ad houses cannot guarantee this expectation. Businesses cannot wholly know where their own marketing funds are ending up. There is a severe lack of transparency in the field.

Considering this finding, Check My Ads refocused their efforts toward transforming the adtech industry through a multipronged approach. Through their newsletter Branded, Check My Ads research and report on a wide variety of issue areas. Their work is prolific; Branded covers everything from the strategies bad actors employ to manipulate ad house blacklists, the role of Google in funding autocracy, to details about the disinformation economy. Branded educates the public and pressures intermediaries who inadvertently finance some of the most harmful actors on the internet.

Simultaneously, Check My Ads worked on social media, demanding action and bringing awareness to prominent issues in the adtech space. Through their newsletter and influential social media presence, Check My Ads was able to defund and/or deplatform some of the biggest names in conspiracy theories and authoritarianism in the United States including Tucker Carlson, Dan Bongino and Steve Bannon for their lies about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, support for the January 6th insurrectionists, and hateful rhetoric targeted at minority groups. Check My Ads also used social media to publicly call out advertising hosts, such as X (formerly Twitter). Under the leadership of new owner Elon Musk, X loosened standards on advertisements, resulting in opaque processes and failures in promises to keep advertisers away from hateful content.

Check My Ads Institute is a powerful example of the union between activism and the business community. Using business arguments, they work to stop funding hate and authoritarianism and advocate for the rights of businesses. Businesses deserve to know who they are funding and should have the ability to audit and freeze their ad placements. Without this transparency, businesses face significant risk, and cannot make the ethical decisions many business leaders abide by. Until adtech changes at a fundamental level, businesses will always be in danger of funding autocracy and uplifting voices of hate. Check My Ads continues to work tirelessly to transform adtech and provide businesses with the knowledge necessary to control their ad funding, and in turn, protect democracy in the United States and worldwide. 

Where to Learn More
Check My Ads 
Check My Ads (@CheckMyAdsHQ) 
Nandini Jammi (@nandoodles) 
Claire Atkin (@catthekin)

You can access all the caselets from the Pillars of Support Project here.