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Advertisers abandon Outoilet

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The saga of the mobile portal Outoilet and its network of chat sites, mostly hosted in Russia but used as a cyber-bullying arena and for solicitation of South African children for sex, has entered a new phase, with a global mobile advertiser blocking its ads from these sites as well as from their hosts. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK reports on the latest episode.

One of the world’s largest mobile advertising networks has agreed to remove its advertising from Outoilet.wen.su, toilet.wen.ru, and related sites that form part of the Outoilet network.

BuzzCity, a Singapore-based mobile advertising network, was not advertising on the toilet sites as such, but on the Russian-based wen.ru portal, which it says ‚provides hosting for simple mobile sites, and monetizes by inserting BuzzCity ads‚ .

“When we became aware of the issue, and got all the facts, we blocked wen.ru as a publisher, and they remain blocked from receiving ads from the BuzzCity network,‚ a representative of BuzzCity told World Wide Worx.

‚Unfortunately, since the whole of wen.ru is one site, operating on one publisher identity, BuzzCity have had to block their entire portal from receiving ads from the BuzzCity network, which has cost us quite a lot of traffic. However, by doing so, we have ensured that our advertising doesn’t land in the wrong context, and doesn’t lead to an association that could damage the BuzzCity brand.

‚BuzzCity will resume publishing activity with wen.ru only if we have established that our ads are served in an appropriate context that does not damage our advertisers.‚

The toilet network had been a mobile hub of bullying, abuse and humiliation for schoolchildren across South Africa for the past year. More recently, adults began soliciting children for sex on the site, offering airtime or money. They also offered to share pornography with schoolchildren, and offered money and airtime for pictures of the children unclothed. At the same time, links to pornography were provided within the chat rooms.

Numerous pleas on the site itself and through the media for the site owners to remove school chat rooms or moderate their content fell on deaf ears. Because the site was accessed through a WAP portal hosted in Russia, namely wen.ru/wen.su (WEN stands for WAP Explorers Network), it appeared that there was nothing the authorities could do.

World Wide Worx approached South Africa’s cellular networks and major Internet Service Providers and requested that they block the site ‚ not as an act of censorship, but rather to protect children from abuse.

MTN and Vodacom immediately agreed, followed by Virgin Mobile and Cell C.

At the same time as the networks agreeing to block the sites, we were given an immediate commitment by one of the biggest advertisers on the site, a South African mobile dating service aimed at over-18s, which has asked not to be identified. It turned out that the ads were placed via a global advertising network. The dating service immediately instructed the network to remove their ads from the site.

Shortly after these developments were reported on the front page of The Citizen, the owners of the Outoilet site removed the school chat rooms, hosted at the sachat site.

To read the full story, click here: How Outoilet was taken out.

However, they then allowed school chat rooms to be set up on a new site on the same wen.ru servers, at sites simply called toilet and nuwetoilet. The chat rooms contained similar content as those that had been taken down (although only a quarter the number of schools were involved), as well as adverts for pornography within each of the schools’ chat rooms.

The site blockage was being felt. On the sachat site, visitors were advised: ‚Tell your friends to download Opera Mini browser ‚Ķ and browse OuToilet without restrictions (no more blocks) 🙂 ‚.

Clearly, blocking the sites could only go so far, especially when massive traffic was still being generated, resulting in healthy income from automated advertising networks. World Wide Worx then decided to tackle the issue on a financial level: where moral and legal arguments are ignored, it is difficult to shrug off financial losses.

We approached BuzzCity, which had already pulled some of its advertising from outoilet.wen.ru, and they immediately took steps to block the entire wen.ru portal ‚until he removes [the toilet sites] totally on his end‚ , referring to the WEN portal owner. ‚He needs to cease association with illegal sites before we review and reactivate him again.‚

While ads appear to have slipped through on some pages, the site is becoming increasingly bare of advertising, and its owners are suffering real consequences.

Ironically, they are attempting to claim the moral high ground. On the sachat site, the only forum available to address the site owner is a discussion board entitled ‚CONTACT WAPMASTER‚ . It is a kind of Frequently Asked Questions page, but with no contact details.

One visitor asks: ‚Web master do you think is possible that you can get service providers to unblock outoilet or any plan in hand ‚.

The answer is: ‚I doubt it, nobody has formally tried to contact outoilet about anything to do with the block. We plan to make a similar site with more regulation so network providers wont be able to block us unless they want to start censoring evry site they dont agree with.‚

Of course, the Wapmaster does not make it possible for formal contact, aside from an open discussion board. He also conveniently ignores the real issue: it is not about censorship.

Had it only been a matter of adult chat rooms and pornography, there would not even be a debate. World Wide Worx is on record as opposing online censorship and we have taken Government ministers to task for suggesting it.

World Wide Worx has taken on this campaign partly in response to the LeadSA initiative for ‚ordinary South Africans to do the right thing for themselves, for their families and for their country‚ . The real issue here is the abuse of children, and the breaking of a number of laws relating to the protection of children.

The continued hosting of schools chat rooms, containing links to pornography as well as messages soliciting children for sex, emphasises the toilet site owners’ lack of concern regarding this issue.

In the context of ads being linked directly from children’s discussion forums, the first of the terms and conditions published on outoilet.wen.su is disingenuous to say the least: ‚You must accept that we display adult (porn) ads, if you are not allowed or do not wish to view such ads then you should leave immediately.‚

The advertisers themselves have taken that message to heart. They are leaving until the toilet sites clean up their own dirt.

· Follow Arthur Goldstuck on Twitter on @art2gee

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