U of T’s School of Public Policy and Governance (SPPG) has pulled digital advertisements for a lecture on government use of digital resources from Breitbart News following criticism from advocacy groups. The SPPG says that the advertisements appeared on Breitbart as a result of affiliate advertising through Facebook.

Web sites like Breitbart News are able to show ads connected to Facebook. When an advertiser purchases an ad on Facebook, an algorithm is used to determine who would be best suited to see the ad.

“So it’s not that we went to Breitbart and said we want you to show our ad; we went to Facebook and said, ‘We want you to advertise this event to interested people who are engaged in public policy in Toronto,’ and then Facebook determined that Breitbart was one site where eyeballs would meet those criteria,” said SPPG Director Peter Loewen.

Advertisers can choose which affiliate web sites they would like their advertisements to appear on with Facebook. According to Loewen, when SPPG learned that advertisements for their lecture were showing up on Breitbart, they made the decision to pull their ads from the web site.

“If somebody who’s a Breitbart reader wants to come to one of our events, of course they’re more than welcome,” said Loewen. “I personally don’t love the way Breitbart engages in public debate; I think it’s sensational and inflammatory often…So we’d rather not be advertising on their site for that reason.”

The lecture, titled “Citizens, Surveillance, and the Public Good,” is set to take place on November 16 at the Isabel Bader Theatre and will feature David Eaves, a technology expert and lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“The real takeaway here is that when you advertise to Facebook, you advertise through its affiliate network, which is a really smart way of advertising because it really casts the net widely — it can show up on sites you may not like, right? In this case it was brought to our attention. We took the steps necessary to make sure those affiliate ads don’t show up on Breitbart,” said Loewen.

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