Ads Force Unwitting Xenophobes to Watch Pro-Refugee Stories

Those looking for anti-refugee content are in for a surprise with this campaign on YouTube.

In Cologne, Germany, on Jan. 9, supporters of Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, an anti-immigration right-wing movement, participate in a demonstration rally in reaction to mass assaults on women on New Year’s Eve. (Photo: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

Apr 26, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Part of the deal with watching a new music video or a clip from a late-night show on YouTube means sitting through a 30-second ad. Just as advertisers hope looking at shiny new lip colors before watching a movie trailer might influence your next purchase, one German organization hopes its ads of refugees sharing real-life experiences will change locals’ opinions about asylum seekers.

“My home was bombed and completely destroyed,” Najlaa, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee living in Germany, says in an advertisement that plays on YouTube. “Do you think I care about money?” Najlaa goes on to explain that she lost three family members during the Syrian conflict and that all she wants is peace.

Najlaa’s video is one of nine ads that pop up when Germans search YouTube for videos using keywords such as refugee terrorists, immigrants don’t integrate, and asylum seekers out.

The campaign, titled “Search Racism. Find Truth,” is the brainchild of Berlin-based housing organization Refugees Welcome. The group paid for the ads to be matched with keywords against refugees and Islam, and they currently play before 100 videos, BBC News reports.

“We hope this campaign will contribute to greater awareness and a more cosmopolitan outlook in the very place where hatred and incitement against foreigners spread the fastest: online,” Jonas Kakoschke, a cofounder of Refugees Welcome, told The Independent.

The 30-second ads cannot be skipped, forcing viewers to hear a direct rebuttal to their desired content. While the users who uploaded the videos can disable ads, they cannot select which ads get paired with their videos.

FULL COVERAGE: The Global Refugee Crisis

More than 1 million asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015, the majority from Iraq and Syria. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has received international praise for her willingness to open the country to those in need, public opinion has become tainted. Attacks in Cologne on New Year’s Eve—in which more than 100 women filed criminal complaints alleging sexual and physical assault at the hands of asylum seekers—drew more scrutiny of refugees residing in Germany. Some German citizens fought back. As of April 5, German officials had recorded nearly 300 attacks on refugee shelters in 2016, including instances of arson and violence, Reuters reports.

Each video from Refugees Welcome is directly connected to its search term to achieve the greatest impact. Before a viewer can watch a woman lamenting that refugees refuse to integrate, a man from Mali delivers the definition of prejudice speech in German—the sixth language he’s learned. Those trying to watch speeches from Lutz Bachmann—the founder of anti-Islamist group PEGIDA—first hear from Arif, who details Bachmann’s rap sheet and arrest record. Najlaa’s video comes up when viewers search refugees only want money.

“We want to use the targeted placement of ads to get viewers of right-wing extremist videos thinking and ideally to even change their minds,” Marieke Geiling, a cofounder of Refugees Welcome, told The Independent. The end of each ad recommends viewers click on an alternative link to learn more about individual stories rather than “listen to more prejudice.”