Marketers are increasingly preventing their ads from appearing alongside content related to Black Lives Matter protests, with some blocking keywords including “black people,” “George Floyd” or “BLM,” according to a top executive at Vice Media.

The exclusions are driven not only by specific brand requests: Agencies have long used third-party brand safety vendors to avoid specific keywords, including “murder” and “riot,” which allows them some control over the content environment in which digital ads appear. But publishers say those keyword lists—meant to ensure a brand’s identity and messaging and to prevent it from being seen as endorsing controversial content—represent outdated and discriminatory technology. In addition, some media buyers use so-called dead person lists, which include names of prominent people, including Floyd, and avoid those stories altogether.

Joshua Lowcock, chief digital and brand safety officer at UM, says the agency has not added words to its exclusion list. There have been temporary pauses in ad spend across media for some clients, however, as being in market would have appeared tone-deaf, he says. The company is actively moving clients away from using keywords as a tool, says Lowcock.

“We have made it clear that brands that want to support justice and show solidarity for the black community cannot avoid or exclude advertising on news, on racial injustice, protests,” Lowcock says. “These stories need to be both funded and told.”

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