26 Apr 2019 AT&T CEO Says Employees Need to Stop Blocking Conservatives from Advertising Platforms
Shareholder Activist Goes to Bat to Un-Censor Content
Dallas, TX/Washington, D.C. – AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson expressed dismay today to learn that his company was censoring certain conservative voices from being able to advertise on some of the tech giant’s platforms, and said that such a practice needs to stop.
His reaction was part of a private discussion with Free Enterprise Project (FEP) Director Justin Danhof, Esq., following today’s annual AT&T shareholder meeting in Dallas, Texas. Danhof and Stephenson specifically discussed AT&T’s 2018 acquisition of AppNexus, a major online advertising platform.
“I noted that under its old CEO Brian O’Kelley, AppNexus had a practice of banning certain websites from its platform for political reasons. Stephenson indicated that AT&T had stopped this practice when it took over the platform. When I informed him that AT&T was in fact continuing O’Kelley’s practice of censoring certain websites from its ad platforms, he expressed dismay,” said Danhof. “Stephenson told me that the practice needs to stop and I agree. Now we are calling on the employees in AT&T’s digital advertising department to follow through on their boss’s calls to end this politically-motivated censorship.”
O’Kelley and his AppNexus team, already known to be incredibly liberal, responded to the election of President Donald Trump by banning certain conservative voices from their platform outright. Less than three weeks after President Trump’s election, O’Kelley blacklisted certain conservative voices (many of whom are direct competitors and frequent critics of AT&T-owned CNN) from the AppNexus platform – and publicly encouraged other ad networks to do the same. The company claimed the decision was because, in its opinion, the targeted conservative speech equaled hate speech. However, when asked, Josh Zeitz, AppNexus’ VP of corporate communications, couldn’t point to a single other instance in which the ad platform had banned other viewpoints as hate speech.
“I take Stephenson at his word when he said he was unaware that AT&T was continuing to ban conservative content. However, now that he is aware, and has expressed his displeasure with this practice, I expect him to move decisively to put an end to AT&T’s role as the speech police,” added Danhof.
Today’s AT&T meeting marks the tenth time FEP has participated in a shareholder meeting in 2019.
Launched in 2007, the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project focuses on shareholder activism and the confluence of big government and big business. Over the past four years alone, FEP representatives have participated in over 100 shareholder meetings – advancing free-market ideals about health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers’ rights and other important public policy issues. As the leading voice for conservative-minded investors, it annually files more than 90 percent of all right-of-center shareholder resolutions. Dozens of liberal organizations, however, annually file more than 95 percent of all policy-oriented shareholder resolutions and continue to exert undue influence over corporate America.
FEP activity has been covered by media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Variety, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Drudge Report, Business Insider, National Public Radio and SiriusXM. FEP’s work was prominently featured in Wall Street Journal writer Kimberley Strassel’s 2016 book The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech (Hachette Book Group).
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 60,000 active recent contributors. Sign up for email updates here. Follow us on Twitter at @FreeEntProject and @NationalCenter for general announcements. To be alerted to upcoming media appearances by National Center staff, follow our media appearances Twitter account at @NCPPRMedia.