Disney, Nestle and Fortnite Publisher Pull YouTube Ads Following Child Predator Controversy

The spots appeared on videos that serve as a hub for pedophiles

Epic Games said it is pausing advertising and reaching out to Google. Getty Images

Epic Games, the company behind the hit online game Fortnite, is suspending all of its pre-roll YouTube advertising after a report found that the brand was appearing on children’s videos that serve as an online hub for pedophiles.

The move comes after investigations from YouTuber Matt Watson and Wired found ads from major brands like Fortnite, Fiat, L’Oreal and Peloton attached to inadvertently suggestive videos of children as young as five that attract floods of pedophiles to their comment sections. It’s the latest in a series of brand safety scandals to hit YouTube as the Google-owned video platform struggles to police its skeevier corners.

A spokesperson from Epic Games said the publisher is “pausing” all pre-roll spend while it assesses the situation.

“Through our advertising agency, we have reached out to Google/YouTube to determine actions they’ll take to eliminate this type of content from their service,” the company said in a statement.

A Google spokesperson said the company has responded by taking down several accounts and channels, disabling certain comment sections and reporting illegal activity to authorities.

“Any content—including comments—that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube,” the the company said in its statement. “There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.”

While most of the YouTube videos in question seem to consist of innocuous footage of children partaking in activities like gymnastics or swimming, they have racked up hundreds of thousands–or sometimes even millions–of views and comments from predators who mark timestamps where exposed genitals or nipples can be seen and exchange contact information. The issue is exasperated by YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which can lead users down a wormhole of such content.

The incident isn’t the first time YouTube has faced advertiser pushback over content that sexualizes children. Brands like Adidas, Deutsche Bank and Hewlett-Packard previously froze advertising after a similar investigation in late 2017. The platform has also weathered various other brand safety crises in the past couple years over unsavory video genres like hate group and terrorist propaganda and medical conspiracy theories.

Google’s attempts to better regulate content in response have included hiring more staffers to vet content, implementing artificial intelligence filters and tightening requirements for user monetization eligibility.

Update Wednesday, Feb. 20, 4:45 p.m.: 

Disney and Nestle have both joined Epic Games in pausing YouTube ad spending after Watson’s report showed their ads were also appearing on the videos, Bloomberg reported Wednesday afternoon.

A Nestle spokesperson said “an extremely low volume” of its ads appeared on the videos and that the company would restore its spend once Google completed its current measures to ensure YouTube could meet the advertiser’s content standards.

“While investigations are ongoing directly with Youtube and our partners, we have decided to pause advertising on Youtube globally, already effective in North America and several other markets,” the company said in its statement.

As for Disney, Bloomberg cited anonymous sources with knowledge of the decision in its report. The media giant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

@patrickkulp patrick.kulp@adweek.com Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.