Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pocket-Change Revenue and Ethical Standards, or Why I'm Wary of AdSense

During the earliest planning phases of my blogging venture, I became aware of the Google AdSense service. While the idea of making some extra money, even a few dollars, for labor I'd be expending anyway, with essentially zero investment, is undeniably a tempting proposition. Nevertheless, I've yet to install this particular widget, and I don't expect to any time soon.

My initial reason for refraining was more a matter of some imagined sense of "professionalism" or "integrity" than anything else (blogging - serious business!). But more recently, I've been reminded of another problematic aspect of forming relationships with advertisers: abandonment of ideological control.

Desperate for cash, traditional print media are not very fussy about their advertisers these days. Ann Caulkins, the publisher of the Charlotte Observer, told the paper’s religion reporter that [Obsession, a DVD currently being distributed by the Clarion Fund (, a nonprofit shell organization devoted to propagandizing against Islam] met the newspaper’s criteria for ads: “We’re all for freedom of expression, freedom of speech. This is in no way reflecting our opinions, but it is something we allow,” she said, adding that the newspaper would not allow material that is racist, profane, or “offers graphic images of body parts,” which at least distinguishes the paper from anything in the CSI television franchise.

Explicit standards of decency for advertisements, such as those maintained by the Charlotte Observer, the Journal of Higher Education, and presumably Google, are designed not with objectivity, but rather consumer palatability, in mind. An advertisement is deemed acceptable so long as a majority of a publication's audience will not become offended and raise an (circulation-plummeting, revenue-slashing) outcry.

The problem is that some products and services that many people find palatable or even enticing, I find myself unwilling to implicitly endorse by featuring on my website. Surely nothing so vile as Islamophobic propaganda films, certainly not from Google; but I don't want to associate myself with any of the vacuity- and vanity-perpetuating goods that are the mainstream advertising norm, either. Luckily for me, that zero investment-cost I mentioned above means my publishing overhead is significantly lower than the average newspaper or scholarly journal, and so, unlike the unfortunates at the Observer, I remain free to allow only content that does reflect my opinions. Ah, to be in the new-media vanguard...

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