Nixing Offensive Ads

How do you stop an offensive or inappropriate ad at Freethought Blogs? Here’s a brief on how.

Our ad service at FtB is automated. We don’t actually choose who advertises on our site, and in fact what ads you see will differ from what ads others will see (like me, for example, even when I look at exactly the same page on FtB that you are), based on barely logical algorithms and cookies and IP geographic locations and whatnot. But we can choose to block certain ads. And if you want to help us do that, here’s the skinny on how.

Periodically we get offensive ads on here, which you may find inappropriate or just plain wrong, for all manner of reasons (from psychics and bullshit alt med, to sexist crap of various kinds, to fundamentalist seminaries, and so on) and you might want to stop them or just help us out by helping us catch and block them. To do that, what we need is the actual click-through URL for the ad (right-click or control-click the ad and copy the URL/link). It will be a crazy long weird URL code.

We can’t block ads by just being told what the ad was for or what it looked like, because there are millions of ads and the only unique identifiers our service lets us use to set blocking is the click-through URL. So we need that URL.

You can send that to us by pasting it into our tech service form here. (You can report all kinds of technical problems with the site there, too, of course, not just this. That link is also at the top of every page at FtB as Tech Issues.) In addition to pasting that URL in there, also politely explain what was offensive about the ad, or why you think we should block it. We may or may not agree. But a decision has to start with our being made aware of it. Since, odds are, we won’t even know about it otherwise.

Regular offenders can theoretically change their ads and thus keep bypassing our block, so if you see an offensive ad or advertised product again, feel free to report it again, just in case that’s what has happened. Although give our tech staff a week at least to purge an ad you reported once already, before reporting it again.

This will be a constant gardening, of course, since new ads and advertisers crop up daily (literally). But any garden has to be constantly gardened. So you’re welcome to give us a hand with pulling the weeds every so often.


  1. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    Thank you, and thanks for describing the necessaries for reporting. Not everyone groks these sorts of things.

    Just how long has that Tech Issues link been on the front page? I don’t recall seeing it before.

  2. Trebuchet says

    Thanks for that. I’ve been getting increasingly bugged by the free energy scam ones and will submit the URL next time it comes up.

  3. says

    Also, I would think multiple ads (indicated by the different graphics used) for the same product will have multiple URL’s (one for each of the various graphics), so, although this may not be practical, would it be an idea to capture as many URL’s as we can when we report the ads?

  4. thomaspaine says

    Off topic. What do you think of Reza Aslan’s new book (Zealot). Any chance you might write a review?

    • says

      There are hundreds of books about what some scholar or other reconstructs as the real Jesus. Even several on the zealot hypothesis already. I see no reason to pay any special attention to this one.

      So, no.

  5. sisu says

    Thanks for sharing this. I saw one for breast enlarging cream earlier today that seemed particularly out of place on this network.

    • says

      That’s precisely the kind of thing we want to nix. So if anyone sees that again, send us its URL via the form (which you can also access at the top of every page at FTB under “Tech Issues”).

  6. Corvus illustris says

    Granted that the ads make one think that there’s a trip to the proctologist looming in the future, doesn’t our tolerating them bring $$ to FtB? Seems a small price to pay if true.

    • says

      There are some products and services we do not want to promote (at any price)…or annoy our readership with (which actually hurts income overall, by driving away readers).

      Compensate by following ads here whose products and services you are actually interested in. Not only is that their purpose, but it will actually help train the bots (ads that get fewer clickthroughs here will gradually get de-prioritized over ads that get many). Just don’t do this to game the system (that’s stealing). Actually consider an advertiser’s content as a consumer. They are paying for the privilege of your attention, so respect that.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    I will occasionally click on, not offensive ads, but religious ones and right-wing ones, under the hypothesis that I am forcing the enemies of reason to pay (tiny amounts of) hard cash to FTB. Is this a bad idea?

    • says

      It’s unethical and counter-productive. Consider if the tables were reversed: would you want Christians costing American Atheists tons of money by false-clicking every AA ad they see?

      Note that, again, these ads are typically robotically assigned. Christian seminaries might not even want their ads here. But they have no way of knowing this is where they are being shown. Insofar as they even have people looking at data (or trusting the robots that do), all they will really notice is how many clickthroughs come from a given site. If FtB readers false-click their ads a lot, then they will falsely believe their ads are successful here and try sending more. Which is unfair to them, and precisely not the result we want, either.

      Now, possibly Christian advertisers are actually trying to poach our readers, or think Christians visit these sites and might be inspired by them to get even more Christian, and thus will be motivated to buy their services even more, and so ads here are a good tactic for them. But that’s up to them to decide, and they need accurate data to make that call. We shouldn’t be misleading them.

      If we don’t want their ads here, the only honest way to stop them is to block them.

      (And note, again, we might even decide not to block them. I’m not wholly against ads for Christian schools here, if they’re respectfully and tastefully presented. Others in the FtB network may feel differently. And ultimately it will come to a vote if we disagree strongly either way, and I’ll be happy with whatever the outcome is.)

  8. David Diskin says

    I don’t know how hard it is technically, but I’ve seen some websites include a tiny “Report this Ad” link directly underneath the ad.

    I imagine it dynamically pulls the click-through URL for the ad and submits that to some kind of form. Or maybe it even pushes it to the advertising partner.

  9. says

    And here I’ve been clicking on the adds for some christian apologetics site that keep popping u for me because I’m all for having christian apologetics financially support freethoughtblogs.

  10. says

    Richard Carrier says, “How do you stop an offensive or inappropriate ad at Freethought Blogs?”

    “He can avert his eyes.”

    – Justice Anthony Kennedy

    Moments later,

    “Turn your eyes away, if it’s such a big deal to you.”

    -Justice Antonin Scalia

    • says

      One cannot avert their eyes from what they came to look at. Or maybe you (they?) don’t know how a human field of vision works?

      But also, “FtB doesn’t want to support that or be associated with that” are two other reasons to nix an ad that “averting eyes” won’t resolve.

      Free speech includes the freedom not to advertise for produces and services you believe are harmful or counter to your values.

  11. Trebuchet says

    The ads are looking better! I actually haven’t seen the free energy scam one here since I made post #3. I did report one yesterday and saw it again this morning but of course these things take time.

    Even better, I haven’t gotten my usual one popup this morning.

  12. Trebuchet says

    Is the tech issues page also an appropriate place for reporting spam in the comments? I usually just do it in-thread but perhaps the tech issues page would be better. Two from the same spammer at Ed’s place this morning.

    My personal guidelines for reporting are to report sexist crap and obvious scams. (Sometimes that’s a twofer!) But I’m not reporting the Xian colleges and such.

    • says

      Best to report those in-line, since they are handled by the individual blogger (when our spam software obviously hasn’t already caught them, we have to go in and tag it manually). Our tech people won’t have much to do with that.

  13. moarscienceplz says

    Hey Richard,

    I normally don’t subscribe to threads, but I did to this one. Just now I unsubbed it, and not only did I get confirms from your blog, I also got multiple replies from the old Thunderf00t, Christina Rad, and something that seems to be called Jesus’ General. It appears they are set on some sort of ‘reply all’ setting.

  14. says

    In 12.1, Richard Carrier responds to me: “Free speech includes the freedom not to advertise for produces and services you believe are harmful or counter to your values.”

    Yes, absolutely. That’s how the powerful justify suppressing the views of anyone they disagree with. The powerful don’t trust ordinary folk to decide correctly for themselves.

    Is doing that ethical?

    • says

      Huh? So, if a con-man wanted to advertise his overpriced homeopathy remedies on the front of your house, you would regard it as unethical to refuse him?

      You aren’t making any logical sense here. Free speech in no universe means compelling others to use their resources to market your products.

      To the contrary, free speech means getting to choose what you say and what you endorse and what you are associated with, and what you don’t believe, don’t endorse, and don’t associate with.

      The con-men can get their own billboards. They have no right to use ours.

  15. tubi says

    Re: jenny6833a @16

    An actual example of the powerful “suppressing the views of anyone they disagree with” would be FtB preventing xian schools, homeopaths, scammers, et al, from having, and this is important, their own blog network where they talk about whatever they fancy.

    Or to take Dr. Carrier’s example, the homeopath can build his own damn house and plaster it with billboards. Subject to any applicable HOA constraints, of course.