ALESTLE VIEW: We need (need, not want) to be able to opt out of certain ads

While many would agree that Spotify and YouTube ads are a nuisance, for some, they can be truly harmful. 


Recently, there have been calls from people recovering from alcoholism to be able to opt out of ads for alcohol. Spotify in particular has been called out, as those who don’t pay for Spotify premium receive ads every few minutes on mobile. Many of these ads are for alcohol, which can cause a relapse for someone who’s struggling with their sobriety, or may dissuade someone considering sobriety from attempting recovery. 


Additionally, minors are often exposed to these ads, which is proven to increase the risk for underage drinking. The problem, however, is not unique to Spotify. Instagram users in recovery claim they are bombarded with alcohol ads, even after clicking “not interested.” While it’s possible that an algorithm may mistakenly pick up “drinking” in internet searches such as “resources to stop drinking,” there’s a darker speculation may companies intentionally target vulnerable demographics to ensure reliable customers? Not being able to opt out of these ads without paying a monthly fee is at best gross negligence, and at worst, sinister.    


People recovering from eating disorders are faced with a similar problem. Instagram recently apologized for promoting weight loss-related content to users with eating disorders. Much like those recovering from a substance abuse disorder, this could trigger a relapse, prolong someone’s recovery or worsen the severity of someone’s condition. While it’s recommended that users unfollow triggering accounts, social media algorithms tend to push content related to posts you typically look at. This means that even after unfollowing, users may be shown triggering ads and other related content. 


YouTube has also faced criticism for placing horror movie ads in videos that are not related to horror. This can be triggering for people who suffer from paranoia. Even if an ad can be skipped, it likely starts by playing scary music and showing potentially triggering images. These ads have also been known to pop up on childrens’ accounts that are supposed to be protected. Not only is this harmful to those who suffer from paranoia, it’s frustrating if you’re watching videos in an attempt to relax before falling asleep, only to be startled awake by an ad for a new horror movie. Unfortunately, due to the revenue that these ads bring in, it will take a significant amount of pushback for YouTube to do anything about it. 


We at The Alestle are calling on these services to be mindful of the vast number of people they affect and allow users to opt out of ads related to triggering topics. If change requires significant pushback, we will be part of the pushback. While many of us can’t afford to pay for the premium versions of these services, and it’s not likely that large enough numbers of people will stop using them to affect the bottom line, we hope that these services will remember the impact they can have on people’s lives, and that they are motivated to act not by profit, but in the interest of what’s best for others. 


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