On Wednesday, Google—which operates one of the largest ad networks in the world—joined advertising giant Facebook in banning ads for cryptocurrencies. It might seem like these companies are ahead of the curve in setting best practices around marketing an emerging technology, but Reddit beat them to the punch years ago. The site just didn’t make a big deal out of it or anything.
Reddit is a massive message board with thousands of sub-forums called “subreddits,” and it’s a central hub for conversation around cryptocurrencies. The Bitcoin subreddit, /r/Bitcoin, has over 700,000 subscribers, and /r/Cryptocurrency has 600,000. At least one new cryptocurrency was born on Reddit in the last year alone. Basically, it seems like the perfect place to hawk an Initial Coin Offering, or ICO—crowdsales for cryptocurrency startups wherein investors purchase digital tokens.
According to a Reddit spokesperson, however, cryptocurrency ads have been banned on Reddit since “early” 2016; a change that the company didn't highlight in a dedicated announcement. Last week, a poster on /r/Cryptocurrency wrote that Reddit is “following Facebook” after their ad was rejected—as we now know, it’s the other way around.
“Ads for cryptocurrencies and ICOs have not been allowed on Reddit since early 2016,” the Reddit spokesperson wrote Motherboard in an email. “Sections II.5 and II.6 of our advertising policy prohibit ‘improbable, or unsubstantiated financial products and services’ and ‘the promotion or advertisement of single securities or other tradeable financial assets.’”
“We didn't make a dedicated announcement about this,” the spokesperson added, “instead, [we] have been enforcing our existing policies since they were enacted.” In other words, Reddit has been banning cryptocurrency ads under rules that prohibit sketchy finance products. In contrast, Google and Facebook both included separate language for banning cryptocurrencies and financial products in their announcements.
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That’s not to say that you can’t see ads for cryptocurrencies or token sales on Reddit. When I visited several cryptocurrency-focused subreddits on Wednesday, I viewed three separate ads for upcoming or ongoing ICOs. These ads were all interest-based and served through Google, not Reddit’s in-house advertising platform, so it’s a bit of a loophole, but the ads are there. Presumably, when Google’s ban on cryptocurrency ads ramps up in June, these ads will stop appearing on Reddit.
After Motherboard sent a Reddit spokesperson the ads in question over email, the spokesperson wrote back that the site had removed the ads and "blocked the advertisers from future programmatic buys."
“We have a human review process for all native ads and enact a category-level blacklist on programmatic ads,” a Reddit spokesperson wrote me in an email. “We do our best to enforce our ads policies across both native and programmatic ads, but there are instances—largely applied to programmatic—when some ads get through.” When Reddit finds a bad ad, the spokesperson said, the site takes it down and contacts the advertiser.
With Google, Facebook, and Reddit all tapping out on advertising cryptocurrencies completely, the burgeoning virtual currency industry is being boxed in on all sides when it comes to advertising their products online.
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UPDATE: This article was updated with additional information from a Reddit spokesperson.