German refugees use advertising to target anti-immigration YouTube videos

Screengrab of Firas Alshater Image copyright Refugees Welcome
Image caption Firas Alshater, 26, fled from Syria and now lives in Germany

German YouTube users searching for anti-immigration videos are being shown adverts of refugees talking about prejudices against them.

Clicking on the ads redirects users to a website with more information about the refugees' stories.

The campaign uses YouTube's advertising system to target search terms associated with far-right content and anti-immigration groups.

The organisation behind the initiative says the video clips cannot be skipped.

Firas Alshater is one of the nine refugees in the adverts.

The Syrian actor came to Germany almost three years ago and has become an internet sensation by posting YouTube videos about his everyday life as a refugee.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe Syrian refugee who's become a star in Germany

He said the campaign started when he realised that a right-wing party used his videos on the platform for advertising.

"I don't think the 30-second clips will disturb anyone. It's a chance to reach people who want to watch these far-right videos because they are afraid and need someone to help them," he told the BBC.

In his advert, Firas tells viewers it was not true that Germans and refugees could not live together peacefully.

'Admirable courage'

Refugees Welcome, the organisation behind the campaign, says the adverts can currently be seen before 100 videos.

"I think the courage of the refugees is admirable and it's important to give them the chance to present their perspective," said Jonas Kakoschke, one of the co-founders of the organisation.

Refugees Welcome is an association that tries to find flatshares for refugees in private homes.

"We won't be able to change everybody's opinion, but we do believe there is a smaller part of people we can have a dialogue with and who are open to arguments," he said.

'Refugees out'

Image copyright AP
Image caption Pegida and other right-wing protest groups have been criticising Germany's 'open-door' immigration policy

Advertisers can use keywords to make their ads appear in front of specific videos on YouTube.

The search terms targeted by the campaign include the name of the leader of Germany's anti-Islamist Pegida movement, Lutz Bachmann, who has gone on trial on hate speech charges this week.

Other keywords are "Refugees out", "Refugees terrorists" and "The truth about refugees".

Video uploaders receive part of the money paid by advertisers. They cannot influence which ads are shown before their video, but can disable them.

"Of course, it's painful that the uploaders are getting money from our campaign, but at the moment they only earn a few cents," said Jonas Kakoschke.

"Ultimately, we hope that some of these groups will disable advertising and therefore lose out on YouTube ads altogether."

What is Pegida?

  • Acronym for Patriotische Europaeer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West)
  • Umbrella group for German right-wingers, attracting support from mainstream conservatives to neo-Nazi factions and football hooligans
  • Holds street protests against what it sees as a dangerous rise in the influence of Islam over European countries
  • Claims not to be racist or xenophobic
  • 19-point manifesto says the movement opposes extremism and calls for protection of Germany's Judeo-Christian culture

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