Let’s just get it out there: Online advertising is a mess. We understand that it is a necessity, but we despair at how ugly it has become. Like you, I hate visiting a website and having to deal with flashing, flickering, or inappropriate banner ads designed to distract me from what I am attempting to watch or read. Even more than that, I hate autoplaying videos that interrupt and annoy, and I utterly loathe pop-under ads that open secretly and hide under my browser. I am not opposed to advertising. I generally don’t mind seeing appropriate and respectful advertisements that relate to my interests or to the site I am viewing. But for every useful ad, I have had to endure ten thousand awful ones. So have you, I’m sure.
There is an easy solution. Ad blockers are simple and popular browser plug-ins that remove all of those ads. They wipe the banners in the sidebar, they shut down the autoplaying videos before they even begin, they interrupt the pop-under ads. As they do all of this, they streamline the browsing experience, making it faster and better and far less annoying. They seem like a perfect solution. But I don’t use them. I can’t use them. Let me tell you why and explain how I think through the issue. As I do so, let me acknowledge that this is not an area of clear biblical command but an area of conscience in which different Christians looking at the same issue through the same Bible may come to differing conclusions.
I believe that when I visit a web site I am entering into an implicit agreement with the owner of that site Their end of the agreement is to provide me with content that I do not have to pay for and my end of the agreement is to see ads. I receive information or entertainment while they receive advertising revenue. It’s a win-win. However, ad blockers interrupt this agreement by allowing me to receive my end of the bargain while keeping them from receiving theirs. This troubles me.
When I visit a web site I am causing the owner of that site to incur a cost. It may be very minor—a fraction of a cent, perhaps—but it is still a cost related to designing, programming, or hosting. Also, many writers write in order to receive financial remuneration for their work, not an unreasonable desire. When that site is supported by advertising, I consider it my duty, my side of the implicit agreement, to view the ads so the owner receives his support and his pay. In my mind this is only fair and right, an application of Jesus’s Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). I won’t consume without providing. If I take I must also give.
And so my conscience compels me to refrain from using an ad blocker because I feel the need to uphold my end of the bargain. If I come across a site whose ads are intolerable, I may exercise my right as a consumer and stop visiting the site, but I won’t block the ads. It’s only what I would want others to do for me—and, indeed, what I do want others to do for me.
As a site owner, I take it upon myself to filter advertisers so visitors only have to see ads displaying vetted, valuable products, services, or ministries, and I take it upon myself to filter the advertisements to ensure they are not obnoxious or intrusive. I publish one clearly-marked sponsored post each week and allow one small banner ad related to that sponsored post. This is my attempt to honor both readers and advertisers, to broker peace in a tricky battle.
My hope and my optimistic belief is that the era of the obnoxious banner ad, the pop-up or pop-under, and the auto-playing video is coming to an end. In fact, ironically, the rise of the ad blocker is making this likely by forcing advertisers to explore and innovate to restore the revenue they are losing as so many people shut out their ads. We will all be the happy beneficiaries. But for now, at least, I will continue to see the ads and to uphold my part in this bilateral agreement.
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