Vodafone is pulling its advertising from sites featuring fake news and offensive content with a brand new whitelist.

Claiming to be the first major company to make such a move, the telecoms giant is replacing blacklisting with an adoption of whitelists instead. Content controls created in collaboration with advertising and PR company WPP, Facebook and Google will ensure Vodafone’s ads are only served within the selected outlets.

The partner companies will help the mobile operator curate and review its whitelist to avoid sites which are “deliberately intended to degrade women or vulnerable minorities”, present satire as credible information, or don’t have credible primary sources.

Vodafone’s director of corporate affairs Matt Peacock told Marketing Week that as programmatic grows, using metadata to blacklist sites is no longer working.

“The issue here is that fake news and hate speech is hard to identify algorithmically – you need human beings. That is the root of many of the issues,” he explained.

Programmatic crisis

Vodafone’s announcement comes at a time of a heated debate around large companies unwittingly helping to fund objectionable content on sites such as YouTube, as revealed by The Times’ investigation. Brands are increasingly concerned that programmatic and automated ad placing make it more difficult to control where advertising appears on the web and hundreds of companies pulled their ads from YouTube.

With the launch of the whitelist, Vodafone will analyse each channel on the video platform to benchmark it against its criteria to decide whether or not it appears on the whitelist, rather than removing all its ads from YouTube.

The new approach is expected to help pull ad revenue from those creating “harmful or damaging” content and bring “long-term benefits” to reputable sites and professional journalism instead.

“Our position is that it is not acceptable for ads to appear in loathsome places and that the current blacklist approach no longer works because it is not possible to be sufficiently assured that brands are not advertising next to or within content that we fundamentally disagree with,” Peacock told Marketing Week.

Vodafone’s whitelist will be regularly reviewed to ensure its list of acceptable sites stays relevant.