Nandini Jammi is not your typical activist. She doesn’t march on the streets, hold up signs, or chant slogans.
She doesn’t even have a catchy name for her cause.
She just has a laptop, a Twitter account, and a mission: to stop the flow of money from advertisers to publishers of hate speech and disinformation.
Jammi is the co-founder of Check My Ads, a non-profit organization that helps brands regain control of their ad placements and avoid funding bad faith publishers. She is also the co-founder of Sleeping Giants, a grassroots movement that exposed how thousands of advertisers were unwittingly supporting Breitbart News, a far-right website that promotes white nationalism, misogyny, and conspiracy theories.
Jammi’s journey began in 2016, when she was working as a marketer for a tech startup. She visited Breitbart.com for the first time after the presidential election and was shocked by what she saw: a website full of hateful and divisive content, but also full of ads from reputable brands like Old Navy, Kellogg’s, and Nordstrom. She realized that these brands probably had no idea that their ads were running on Breitbart, because they were using Google Ads, a platform that automatically places ads on websites based on keywords and audience data.
She decided to do something about it. She wrote a Medium post urging marketers to stop running ads on Breitbart and teamed up with Matt Rivitz, a copywriter who had the same idea. Together, they launched Sleeping Giants, an anonymous Twitter account that alerted advertisers to their presence on Breitbart and asked them to block the website from their media buy. They also encouraged their followers to join the campaign and contact advertisers directly.
The campaign was a huge success. Within months, hundreds of brands dropped Breitbart from their ad inventory, costing the website millions of dollars in revenue and hampering its plans to expand internationally. Steve Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart and former chief strategist for Donald Trump, admitted in 2017 that Sleeping Giants had reduced Breitbart’s ad revenue by 90%. Jammi and Rivitz were hailed as heroes by many who saw them as fighting against the rise of fascism and misinformation in the digital age.
But Jammi soon realized that Breitbart was not the only problem. There were hundreds of other websites that were spreading hate speech and disinformation, often using sophisticated techniques to evade detection and accountability. These websites were not only harming democracy and society, but also exploiting advertisers and consumers by engaging in ad fraud, clickbait, and data theft. Jammi wanted to do more than just alert advertisers; she wanted to empower them to take action.
That’s why she founded Check My Ads in 2020 with her partner Claire Atkin, a former journalist and media strategist. Check My Ads is an organization that provides tools, resources, and education for advertisers to audit their own ad placements and block problematic publishers from their media buy. Jammi says that their mission is to keep money out of the hands of the biggest voices in disinformation, but their bigger goal is to bring transparency to the advertising ecosystem, so advertisers can gain control of their own ad placements again.
“We learned that the root of the problem is simple: advertisers don’t have access to their data. They can’t even check their ads because their vendors refuse to give them the information they need to protect their brands,” Jammi says. “So we started Check My Ads to help them get that data back.”
Jammi says that one of the biggest challenges they face is that many advertisers are unaware of where their ads are showing up or how they are being served. She says that most advertisers rely on third-party platforms like Google Ads or Facebook Ads to place their ads on websites based on keywords or audience data. But these platforms often have opaque policies and practices that make it hard for advertisers to know where their ads are actually running or how they are being targeted.
For example, Jammi says that Google Ads has a feature called “custom intent audiences” that allows advertisers to target users based on their search history or browsing behavior. But this feature also allows Google Ads to place ads on websites that are not related to the advertiser’s keywords or products. Jammi says that this feature is often abused by bad faith publishers who use misleading or sensational keywords to attract users and then serve them ads from unsuspecting advertisers.
Jammi says that this is how many advertisers end up running ads on websites like Breitbart or The Daily Wire, two conservative websites that have been accused of spreading hate speech and disinformation. She says that these websites often use keywords like “immigration”, “climate change”, or “vaccine” to lure users who are interested in these topics and then serve them ads from brands that have nothing to do with these issues.
Jammi says that this is not only unethical but also ineffective for advertisers who want to reach their target audience and build trust with their customers. She says that running ads on these websites can damage the brand’s reputation, alienate their customers, and waste their money.
“That’s why we help advertisers check their ads and block these websites from their media buy. We want to make sure that their ads are running on websites that align with their values and goals,” Jammi says.
Jammi says that Check My Ads has helped hundreds of advertisers audit their ad placements and block problematic publishers from their media buy. She says that they have also helped expose some of the worst offenders in the digital advertising industry, such as Pubmatic, an advertising network that she says is “militantly supportive of hate speech and disinformation in their inventory”.
Jammi says that Pubmatic is one of the main suppliers of ads for websites like Breitbart, The Daily Wire, The Gateway Pundit, and Newsmax, all of which have been accused of spreading hate speech and disinformation. She says that Pubmatic not only refuses to remove these websites from their inventory, but also actively defends them and attacks anyone who criticizes them.
Jammi says that she discovered that Pubmatic’s Director of Inventory Quality, who is responsible for deciding what websites are acceptable for their clients, is actually a supporter of the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 vaccine is designed to harm, control, and even kill people. She says that she noticed that he retweeted an anti-masking tweet by a user whose name was “Pureblood”, a reference to the conspiracy theory.
“Obviously people are entitled to their beliefs, but it says a lot about Pubmatic’s priorities that they have kept him in charge of deciding what’s hate speech and disinformation on behalf of their clients. That’s a real failure to protect the client. But then again, there’s not a lot of integrity on their leadership team,” Jammi says.
Jammi says that she has contacted Pubmatic several times to ask them to remove these websites from their inventory, but they have ignored or dismissed her requests. She says that she has also contacted some of Pubmatic’s clients, such as Yahoo, Verizon, and AT&T, to alert them to the issue and ask them to pressure Pubmatic to change their policies. She says that some of them have been responsive and cooperative, while others have been indifferent or hostile.
Jammi says that one of the most satisfying moments of her work was when she convinced Yahoo to remove Glenn Beck ads from their inventory. She says that Glenn Beck is a conservative commentator who has been accused of spreading hate speech and disinformation on his website and podcast. She says that she noticed that Yahoo was running ads for Glenn Beck on their homepage and other sections of their website. She says that she contacted Yahoo’s ads team and asked them to review and remove Glenn Beck from their inventory in accordance with their supply policy.
“It wasn’t hard. Yahoo’s ads team has been very responsive to us, and I respect them for reviewing and removing Glenn Beck from their inventory in accordance with their supply policy,” Jammi says.
Jammi says that she hopes that more advertisers will follow Yahoo’s example and take action to protect their brands from being associated with hate speech and disinformation. She says that she believes that advertisers have the power and the responsibility to shape the digital media landscape by choosing where they spend their money. She says that she wants to help them make informed and ethical decisions that will benefit not only their business but also society.
“We are living in a time when hate speech and disinformation are rampant online and offline. They are fueling violence, division, and distrust in our society. They are undermining our democracy and our humanity. We can’t afford to ignore them or enable them,” Jammi says.
“That’s why we need advertisers to step up and take a stand against them. We need advertisers to check their ads and block problematic publishers from their media buy. We need advertisers to demand transparency and accountability from their vendors. We need advertisers to support quality journalism and independent media that inform and empower people.”
“We need advertisers to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Jammi also shares some insights into the psychology of persuasion and how she applies it in her work. She says that when she was a marketing newbie, she came across a mountain-shaped diagram called “Breaking down the A, Building up the B.” It showed that persuasion is a progression that requires breaking down existing beliefs and introducing something to replace them with.
“It’s really that simple. I think about that model every single day. You can use it to sell toothpaste. You can use it to run a successful disinformation operation. You can also use it to change the world for the better,” Jammi says.
She says that in her case, it’s not enough to fight against something or dismantle the disinformation economy, as they have described their mission in the last year. She says that they need to start imagining an alternative to this mess, so people have something to get excited about moving towards something better.
“We’re all realizing that A isn’t working for us. But what is B? That’s what I’m thinking about a lot these days.”