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Hulu’s “unwritten policy” on political censorship sparks backlash

Hulu’s “unwritten policy” on political censorship sparks backlash

Last year, Hulu raised its ad-supported subscriptions by a dollar, shortly after prompting subscribers to submit more feedback on ads. Since 2017, vocal members in the Hulu community have complained about seeing the same political ads “1,000 times,” with some claiming they were repeatedly served ads from Republicans that spread misinformation. After President Biden was elected in 2020, others complained about “Democratic propaganda.” Many suggested Hulu wasn’t the place for political ads, with one post pitching a new Hulu policy of “no political ads” getting more than 2,000 votes.

At least one subscriber in the forum claimed that regardless of content, Hulu was financially motivated to sell political ads, but this week Hulu has taken actions that seemingly respond to subscribers’ longtime complaints—by blocking more political ads. Democrats have claimed that Hulu blocked political ads discussing key party issues like abortion rights, gun control, and climate change, sparking an entirely different backlash and a Twitter rally cry to #BoycottHulu.

“Hulu’s censorship of the truth is outrageous, offensive, and another step down a dangerous path for our country,” executive directors of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Democratic Governors Association told The Washington Post in a statement. “Voters have the right to know the facts about MAGA Republicans’ agenda on issues like abortion—and Hulu is doing a huge disservice to the American people by blocking voters from learning the truth about the GOP record or denying these issues from even being discussed.”

On July 15, the Democratic groups said that they attempted to purchase joint ads ahead of the midterm election on Hulu. The spots argued for more abortion rights and gun control. The same ads ran without issue on platforms like YouTube and Facebook. They were hoping the ads would stream on Hulu, too, capturing the attention of Hulu subscribers ages 13 to 54, who are known to sit and binge shows for hours and overwhelmingly prioritize Hulu as a top form of entertainment above all else.

These are audiences that political committees say they cannot reach with campaign ads on traditional media like cable TV, which are “bound by the Communications Act of 1934, a law that requires broadcast television networks to provide politicians equal access to the airwaves.” Hulu is not bound by the same law, and only Hulu knows what is and isn’t allowed to be discussed in political ads it serves to its streaming video audiences.

The Washington Post reported that these new complaints about Hulu’s “unwritten policy” add to a “growing list” of political ads censored by Hulu for “mentioning gun violence, abortion, or political violence” like the January 6 committee investigation. One prior complaint from another Democrat involved a recommendation by Hulu to remove the word “climate change” from an ad.

So far, Hulu has not commented on the controversy and did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment. An anonymous source “familiar with Hulu’s policies” on internal matters told The Washington Post that “the company does not publicly disclose its advertising guidelines but that [it prohibits] advertising that takes a position on a controversial issue, regardless of whether it is a political ad. The ads are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, with edits sometimes recommended to the advertisers.”

The anonymous source also said that Hulu will accept ads discussing abortion and gun violence, but “it needs to be in context.” One example demonstrating how context can impact review decisions is an ad that Hulu reviewed about the January 6 attack on the Capitol Building. The ad was permitted to air only after footage from the attack was removed. Once that footage was replaced with video of Donald Trump, the ad was approved.

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