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Amid 'PizzaGate,' Reddit Moves to Prevent Ads From Appearing on Conspiracy-Driven Topics

By Published on .

Credit: Reddit Inc.
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Before PizzaGate morphed into an event where a 28-year-old man opened fire with an AR-15 inside a Washington D.C. restaurant, the popular Reddit conspiracy page was often viewed as a place where harmless banter took place.

In fact, the conspiracy subreddit has historically been referred to as the home of "unsolved mysteries" by employees at Reddit's San-Francisco-based headquarters.

But the tone of /r/conspiracy has changed significantly, and on Tuesday, Reddit added it to its "no ads list," a space typically reserved for the sketchy corners of the social media website, a person familiar with the matter told Ad Age.

Reddit uses programmatic advertising to fill a small percentage of its ad inventory through partnerships with OpenX, Rubicon Project and PubMatic. That meant ads from major brands were appearing on /r/conspiracy until Monday. The following day, however, the company stopped ads from showing up on the page.

The move was prompted after Edgar M. Welch entered Comet Ping Pong -- a popular Washington D.C. restaurant that has literally come under fire by conspiracy theorists who claim it is home to a child sex ring used by former Hillary Clinton chairman John Podesta -- to investigate and rescue children being held against their will, but he soon found out no such thing existed, police said.

According to police, Mr. Welch fired his rifle inside the restaurant, but no one was injured. He is currently facing a slew of charges, including assault with a deadly weapon.

PizzaGate and similarly false conspiracy type content could prove worrisome for Reddit, which is trying to transform itself into an advertising powerhouse that can one day rival Facebook. But unlike Facebook, which is often associated with "fake news," conspiracy theories fly on Reddit even when it shuts down a specific subreddit associated with it.

PizzaGate existed elsewhere on the web -- mainly fake news website -- that its 240-million members did not likely visit. Members fueling the conspiracy theories are vocal and work together to make sure its content gets seen by exploiting Reddit's algorithm. The group was previously contained to its own section on Reddit called /r/pizzagate, but was quickly deleted by the company after members began sharing personal information about Comet Ping Pong employees.

For both Reddit and marketers who want to reach its audience, there are tools in place for brands to avoid specific keywords, like "Donald Trump," for example. Advertisers can also avoid entire subreddits should they choose.

The company has been seeing success on its platform and has a team of strategists who work with brands like Coca-Cola and eBay, among others, to inform them of organic posts that have potential to become Promoted User Posts, a recent ad offering by the company.

The company's other ad offerings include native ads that look like user posts, but are highlighted as promoted. The bulk of the company's ad revenue comes from desktop, not mobile, according to Reddit.