German viewers of immigrant-hating YouTube videos must first watch ads with real refugee stories

An organization is fighting prejudice with advertising.
An organization is fighting prejudice with advertising.
Image: YouTube/Refugees Welcome
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Advertising has long tried to do more than just sell stuff. Recent campaigns, such as  Always’ “Like a Girl,” have helped empower young women, promote social issues like LGBT rights, and combat diseases like skin cancer and the Zika virus.

A new push by a refugee room-sharing service in Europe is tackling anti-immigration sentiment in Germany, where more than one million refugees from war-torn regions like Syria have needed housing in the last year.

The campaign, from Refugees Welcome, delivers ads with real refugee stories before anti-immigration videos on YouTube in Germany. The ads debunk claims in the videos with facts, personal stories, and humor, putting real faces on immigrant stories and showing fearful Germans that refugees aren’t unlike them.

To target immigrant-hating videos, the room-sharing service uses keywords on YouTube’s ad platform that are associated with far-right content and anti-immigration groups, such as Pegida, Germany’s anti-Islamist group, and its leader Lutz Bachmann. Other keywords include “refugees out” (“asylanten raus”), “refugees terrorists,” and “the truth about refugees.”

A German can’t watch a anti-immigrant YouTube video associated with a keyword without first seeing a 30-second preroll ad from Refugees Welcome. The ads have no skip function, according to Refugees Welcome, so the viewers have to hear the refugees out. Users can, however, skip the anti-immigration videos that follow by clicking the ads, which lead to a site with more information about the refugees.

The ads, starring nine real German refugees, currently run before 100 videos, BBC reported.

On Google, the organization has bought search terms so users are delivered a link to refugee stories if they search, for instance, “refugees out.”

“The greatest weapon of the far right is the internet,” said Refugees Welcome in a video about the campaign. “This is where lies and false reports are deliberately spread to stir up hatred and insight anger directed toward the refugees.”

Refugees Welcome, which could not immediately be reached for comment, hopes the campaign will stop the spread of anti-immigration videos online and curtail their influence.