Some background for those who don't know me: I have been involved in SE for more than 5 years and have been a moderator (activity now suspended) on Parenting for several of them. My background is medicine (physician) and Molecular Biology, and for the most part, people other than myself have handled all things (not-medicine-related) technical, allowing me to stay in my cocoon of technophobia and near-tech-illiteracy. I'm embarrassed, but it is what it is.

So I admit to not having been involved on this particular site until Monica was fired. I've been following events as closely as I can since.

I have no problems with gender-neutral pronouns and write using the singular they/them when the subject is unknown or when generally speaking. I'm on board with the new CoC so far. Whatever (within reason) is going to make the world a better place is pretty much fine with me.

Now my question (remember, I have no idea how this stuff works). How can this happen?

SE (the company) wants money. SE TPTB want me to be nice and inclusive, and reject bigotry, racism, etc. But how is SE (whatever) going to be nice to me? In what respect is it nice for me to be subjected to an ad objectifying women at a place where I volunteer my services (on The Workplace, no less, as if sexual harassment in the workplace were not rampant enough?)*

How does SE select/accept advertisers? What is SE doing to protect moderators from various ads which they may find offensive?

How does this kind of advertising fit with a "professional" site?

And yes, as a female physician, and before that a female researcher, I have had unbelievable experiences with this. Some would make Louis C.K. blush.

  • 1
    A lot of your question seems to assume that SE signed off on showing this specific ad, when it's probably more accurate to say that SE relies on Google to select appropriate ads, and that Google made a mistake. I can't believe anybody at SE would endorse this ad, or find it appropriate here.
    – user229044
    Oct 10, 2019 at 17:47
  • 15
    @meagar - Don't they (anybody) give Google some parameters? I mean, would "Do this every night to prevent diabetes (shows someone putting an onion on their foot in their sock)" type of ads fly on Medicial Sciences? Oct 10, 2019 at 17:49
  • Google has ad policies, and I assume StackExchange forbids adult content in the ads, but if an advertiser doesn't properly tag their ads then Google will only find out after it pops up somewhere and somebody notices.
    – gormadoc
    Oct 10, 2019 at 17:53
  • 7
    So, from now on, as Google has been notified, we will no longer have such ads? Does Google screen ads? Does all blame shift to Google? I don't know how this stuff works (or doesn't work, in this case.) Oct 10, 2019 at 17:55
  • 1
    @meagar the problem is that members have been complaining about ads for months. And it looks like nothing has changed. Oct 10, 2019 at 17:56
  • 47
    I don't have answers right now, but I do want to acknowledge publicly that this is a legitimate concern. Oct 10, 2019 at 17:56
  • @anongoodnurse I don't think that it could help. It's not the first time, not the last, probably. SE just removed this particular ads from the rotation. Oct 10, 2019 at 17:56
  • 14
    Now that we all know that Google standards are unreliable, shouldn't the powers that be find a better way to do it? Oct 10, 2019 at 17:57
  • 11
    Remember SE had more stringent controls, then they released that control to google ad services; I would say that's SE consenting to any ads run by google. There are plenty of posts complaining about that, and clearly it wasn't important enough for SE to keep that level of filtering intact.
    – Culyx
    Oct 10, 2019 at 17:57
  • @Suvitruf I wasn't aware (I use adblock). I didn't realize this was an ongoing point of contention.
    – user229044
    Oct 10, 2019 at 18:00
  • 4
    What @ScottSeidman said. Why isn't this the answer? Oct 10, 2019 at 18:02
  • 3
    Related: Is Stack Exchange infected with malware?# As a money maker solution 3rd party ressources are 'great thing' they say. This is diffusion of responsibility and justified as such from above. Taken the response I got over there, "this is not the place to grumble" seems to be the answer to your question. Oct 10, 2019 at 18:11
  • 10
    If you think a flirty dating ad is bad, wait until you get one for an actual sex shop on the Workplace.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 10, 2019 at 18:57
  • 1
    @nvoigt - I saw that too (as I had read your question) but my eyes...and it's so small. That thank you for pointing it out again here! (The girl, OTOH, is not small, but it certainly is about sex.) Oct 10, 2019 at 19:01
  • 3
    The question is framed as a trade: You have been nice (inclusive, anti-racism, etc.), therefore Stack Exchange should be nice back (avoid sex ads). But it's not a trade, it's two separate duties. Good that you've fulfilled yours, but irrelevant to Stack Exchange failing its own, which is the point of the question. It's not like Stack Exchange could legitimately say "We'll show sex ads, but in exchange, you get to be racist!" (that'd be hilarious though) Oct 16, 2019 at 0:33

3 Answers 3


Recall that the "Twitter incident" involved someone on Twitter complaining about question titles shown in the Hot Network Questions list that were arguably inappropriate. The title particularly called out was: "How do I tell students at a school I volunteer at to stop flirting with me?" This was considered so bad by SE that IPS was immediately dropped from the HNQ list, and various moderators who attempted to deal with the uproar were, well, maybe not criticized by SE (that's a whole debate on its own), but certainly not supported.

Now SE decides they want to show ads across all (or maybe most, I don't know offhand) sites and a bunch of highly inappropriate ads start showing up. Yes, the individual ads are removed (although sometimes they come back) and I understand that it's not as if SE is specifically choosing inappropriate ads or endorsing them when they do show up.

But really? A question about flirting is so inappropriate that it has be removed immediately and changes made so that it can't happen again, but pictures of breasts are shown in ads, or when ads for dating sites show up, there's no change to be made there? This is deliberate in the sense that SE is continuing to show ads even though they know their chosen providers sometimes include ones that are inappropriate

It seems to me that this violates both the new and old CoC: in what way is showing inappropriate ads "inclusive and respectful?"

It also seems to me like this is another indication that SE doesn't care that much about "the community" any more. There are two ways the Twitter incident showed that SE doesn't support the community:

  • People in the community had been pointing out problems with the HNQ list for a long time but nothing was done. That they responded immediately to someone outside the community shows that they value that sort of feedback more.
  • As I recall, an apology from SE for how they treated moderators who tried to deal with the incident was promised, but never delivered.

Now, when content is being shown that (IMO) is much worse than HNQ titles in the sidebar, and when the community is continually reporting that it's a problem, the company's response is "well, we're testing ads, this sort of thing seems to be inevitable, just live with it for a while."

  • 3
    "for a while", riiiiiight...
    – Secespitus
    Oct 10, 2019 at 18:37
  • 1
    @Secespitus I'm also dubious, but for this answer I was trying to give SE every possible benefit of the doubt. Oct 10, 2019 at 18:39
  • 5
    Difference is, that vile terrible ableist HNQ question was shown to poor SO users trying to go about their programming business. So far I think only the non-SO sites have yet gotten the new and entirely non-topical and inappropriate ads. Oct 10, 2019 at 18:52
  • 4
    @ChristianRau Actually the terrible ableist question was a different one, but your point is totally valid. Oct 10, 2019 at 19:18
  • 5
  • 1
    @ChristianRau the terrible ableist question was definitely not ableist
    – Federico
    Oct 11, 2019 at 8:01
  • To be cynical but probably accurate, the difference is that dropping a site from HNQ doesn't affect revenue, but dropping ads does.
    – Wildcard
    Oct 15, 2019 at 18:53

Thank you for flagging this.

My name is Sean Bave, I am the General Manager for the Advertising business.

These ads are absolutely against our policies, we will take this down immediately and remove the advertiser completely. We have actively excluded dozens of categories of ads; this is a case of a bad actor trying to get around the restrictions we have put in place. More importantly, though, it is not our intention to leave it to our users to police the ads, that is not fair to our community. We appreciate your help in flagging this, but you should not have had to in the first place. We are actively working very hard to put better monitoring, flagging, and other controls in place.

Our goal is to give the community more direct control over the ad experience while using better automation and working with our advertising partners to completely restrict bad ads. In the coming weeks, I will be updating the community in much greater detail about our approach to advertising, the controls that are available to individuals, and the additional protections that we are putting in place. I understand that this is all talk until we deliver, and intend to do so as soon as I can. 

  • 67
    You remove one, ten other appear. It's pointless. As long as you're using external ad provider, bad ads will keep showing. That's the reality. And at some point you'll get tired of removing them, and then they will stay. Oct 10, 2019 at 18:35
  • 30
    Thank you for answering. I appreciate your responding, honestly. But I can't honestly say that your answer reassures me much, especially since learning that this has been going on for some time now. But please do keep trying; I hope you (pl) can fix this. Oct 10, 2019 at 18:57
  • 15
    I wish your team the best, but I've just turned on AdBlock for all SE sites, so far the best control I can exert over the ads; any other effort involves coming here to post. I look forward to your update.
    – Culyx
    Oct 10, 2019 at 19:00
  • 25
    This is why AdBlockers become common place - people very rapidly tire of hearing about nebulous plans. We get a lot of talk about plans from SE managers, but there's no sight of an actual plan with detail. Solution : Publish the plan. Who knows ? The members who provide answers to each other on topics like workplace, finance, economics and so on might even have better ideas than you do. Oct 10, 2019 at 19:12
  • 23
    no matter what your intention is, the result is exactly that, community has to police ads and it takes a relatively long time for you to react. What are you doing proactively. Of course, I have to do the same thing as everyone else, AdBlocker engaged.
    – user148287
    Oct 10, 2019 at 19:47
  • 7
    It hasn't really been mentioned, but the longer this takes to implement, the less of an audience you'll actually have to show ads to. While not directly your fault, people are fed up, with this and other SE debacles, so it wouldn't surprise me to see ad impressions dropping off a cliff every day. The longer it takes, the less need there is for people to control ads, as they just won't see any.
    – fbueckert
    Oct 10, 2019 at 21:08
  • 1
    @anongoodnurse: Unfortunately, it's unfixable in practice, it can just be improved so that it happens less often. But obviously this improvment eats into the profits of the add distribution companies because it costs money (spent on hiring more human verifiers or on implementing better classifier algorithms). Oct 10, 2019 at 21:21
  • 10
    It's the nth example of a bad ad, what are you doing to prevent further occurrences?
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 10, 2019 at 21:29
  • 12
    This is going exactly opposite to the way it should. Stop the ads until you can find a provider that meets the community standard. When you've got it figured out, put them back up. Oct 11, 2019 at 12:37
  • Is there any statistics of how many people have seen offensive ads before they are taken down? Oct 11, 2019 at 18:17
  • I have seen no ads on Stack Overflow, seems strange, since I guess it to have much the highest traffic; is this because the ad system, viewed by a v high percentage of SO users in the workplace, would result in too high a number of complaints? Presumably SO for Teams wouldn't show ads anyway.
    – MandyShaw
    Oct 16, 2019 at 4:11

We need a "Low Quality Ads" queue.

Each advertisement would require at least 2 "Approve" votes before it could be displayed to users.

  • 5
    @rjzii I would prefer that we don't do the labor for them. But if the automated ad filtering isn't effective enough, then humans have to step in and take control.
    – jkdev
    Oct 11, 2019 at 2:45
  • 1
    What would stop that queue from being subject to robo-rejecters?
    – pppery
    Oct 11, 2019 at 4:35
  • @pppery Assuming robo-rejecters open an account on SE and get enough rep to moderate the queues, there might need to be a procedure for taking away their moderation privileges if they vote the same way on every ad. The same would apply to robo-approvers.
    – jkdev
    Oct 11, 2019 at 13:50
  • 11
    SE should hire people to review ads. It should not be imposed, heck, it should not even be expected from us to do this for them. I must mention that ads do not serve the community's goal of building a library so we must not be expending our labor into such a fruitless activity.
    – 286110
    Oct 12, 2019 at 17:54

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