Story by Matthew Kellenberg '18
2017 has been a whirlwind of a year for online advertising. Youtube is under fire from the the Wall Street Journal for allowing advertisements on racist videos, Kendall Jenner brought the world together with a Pepsi, and famed mentor Tai Lopez just can’t stop making videos (his 2015 Here in My Garage advertisement racked up 67 million views and forced viewers to face their own lack of Lamborghinis). Online marketing has incontestable influence: the steady stream of advertisements in and around our favorite sites diverts our attention and drives our consumption behavior, effects which we do not always welcome.
AdBlock, Adblock Plus, AdBlocker Ultimate—today’s ad blockers provide a solution to the distraction of online advertising (in addition to having inventive names). Any St. Albans student who has taken out a new, hopefully unsmashed Chromebook has seen a notification for the installation of one of these programs. Admittedly, I also have one on my home computer. A 2016 study says I’m not alone—26% of desktop users use an ad blocker.
The question of morality in ad blocking brings to light the question of morality in advertising itself. Online advertising can be obtrusive, loaded with malware, or even sold with dishonest headlines. A YouTube title containing the phrase “not clickbait” probably foreshadows disappointing content. In these cases, advertisers and content creators gain at the viewer’s expense; accordingly, the use of an ad blocker is justified.
Of course, not all producers pump out a steady stream of virtual garbage masked with pop-up ads for eerily enticing products.Often, honest content creators are taken for granted. In the war against mildly irritating marketing, these genuine workers are the casualties. In defense of ad blockers, the programs do contain a feature such that the viewer can choose to turn on advertisements for such producers. The system of “whitelisting” each worthy web page is an ideal, yet tedious and underused, method of regulating online advertising. The process requires users’ active participation in turning on advertisements as well as the sacrifice of viewing advertisements to help pay someone’s salary.
Ad blockers are not inherently wrong, but the consequences of their misuse are apparent. As more users install these programs, online advertising will have to evolve or die, and not every reliable content creator will be fit to survive. As their source of income, it is the users’ duty to financially support those whom they appreciate. In the age of ad blockers, we must either work to preserve the current ad revenue system or watch while the volume of our favorite content dwindles.