Microsoft Removes Conservative Sites from ‘Secret Blacklist’ of Blocked Advertisers

Microsoft has removed the “negative flags” for conservative news outlets, including Newsmax, that were blocked from getting key advertising dollars, according to the Washington Examiner.

The publication reported on internal data obtained from Microsoft, which showed that the company was doing a review and suspending its subscription to a tracking group that aimed to defund what it saw as “disfavored speech.”

Microsoft-owned advertising company Xandr had previously adhered to a “secret blacklist” of conservative news put together by the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), a British organization with two affiliated U.S. nonprofits.

Microsoft now appears to be distancing itself from GDI and has deleted flags such as “false/misleading” and “reprehensible/offensive” for right-leaning websites.

An unnamed executive in the advertising industry confirmed to the Examiner that all rejection flags had been removed from the domains.

Xandr had labeled 39 conservative domains as “false/misleading,” including Townhall, whose publisher is Salem Media Group, which was flagged as “reprehensible/offensive.”

The Washington Examiner, along with other sites such as Newsmax, the Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Drudge Report, Breitbart, the Blaze, the Washington Times, Judicial Watch, and the Media Research Center affiliate MRC.TV was also among those flagged as “false/misleading.”

However, an internal Xandr dataset showed that all of these websites no longer have a designation, though it’s unclear if they are receiving ads from certain brands without an “approved” classification.

A Microsoft spokesperson told the Examiner, “We try to take a principled approach to accuracy and fighting foreign propaganda. We’re working quickly to fix the issue, and Xandr has stopped using GDI’s services while we are doing a larger review.”

In September 2022, Xandr informed publishers that it would start to adopt GDI’s “dynamic exclusion list,” which the organization feeds to ad companies.

This list may include at least 2,000 websites and is said to have tried to pressure companies to shut down certain sites.

GDI compiles the list with oversight from its own “advisory panel,” which includes Ben Nimmo, global lead for threat intelligence at Facebook parent company Meta, and left-leaning journalist Anne Applebaum.

The organization claims that the 10 “riskiest” outlets are Newsmax, the American Spectator, the Federalist, the American Conservative, One America News Network, the Blaze, the Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Reason, and the New York Post.

The 10 “least risky” websites, according to GDI, are NPR, ProPublica, the Associated Press, Insider, the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, Buzzfeed News, HuffPost, and the Wall Street Journal.

The Washington Examiner also reported that watchdogs raised concerns over the Department of State funding GDI, which has reportedly received $330,000 from the agency through the Global Engagement Center and the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit mostly funded through congressional appropriations.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee that oversees State Department grants, said that the “most recent allegations, if verified, confirm the need for a strict accounting of all U.S. taxpayer funds going to the GEC.”