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Google’s animal cruelty prohibition does not apply to hunting ads, according to a company spokeswoman who explained how a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation video ad was mistakenly rejected in April.

“Google doesn’t have a policy prohibiting hunting ads,” the unidentified Google spokeswoman wrote in an email statement on Tuesday. “We do have a policy against ads that promote animal cruelty or feature gratuitous violence towards animals. In this case, we made a mistake and the ad is now approved to run. We always encourage advertisers to appeal if they feel that an ad was wrongly disapproved — this helps us improve our systems and processes.”

On May 3, hours after receiving a letter from Montana's congressional members, Google restored a paid ad promoting a RMEF video it had initially rejected because of animal cruelty issues.

However, it was unclear whether Google was reviewing an appeal from RMEF before the letters from Montana's congressional delegation became public. RMEF spokesman Mark Holyoak said the organization was unaware of any appeal process beyond the initial rejection it received on April 25.

The Missoula-based hunting advocacy group appealed to Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte, who sent inquiries to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Friday. Holyoak said a Google representative called on Friday evening rescinding the decision and reinstating RMEF’s ad.

The advertisement appeared as a “pre-roll” spot before other videos on YouTube. It promoted an 8-minute video about former RMEF board member Nancy Hadley, who participates in a muzzle-loader elk hunt in New Mexico and reminisces about growing up in a hunting family. The cover image of the video shows Hadley in camouflage holding an elk antler in the field. RMEF’s Elk Network media department produced the video. One scene in the video shows a bull elk flinching and running away after an off-camera gunshot is heard.

In an email provided by Daines and Gianforte, a Google Support representative states “any promotions about hunting practices, even when they are intended as a healthy method of population control and/or conservation, is considered as animal cruelty and deemed inappropriate to be shown on our network. I can imagine how displeasing this could be to hear as you would like to promote this video so that you can show hunting in a positive manner, however, we are also bound by our policies and protocols and according to Google's policies, promotions such as these cannot be allowed to run.”

Google’s “Inappropriate Content” policy states “we don’t allow ads … that display shocking content or promote hatred, intolerance, discrimination or violence.” While most of the examples involve human activities such as hate-group promotion, execution videos, and “gratuitous portrayals of bodily fluids,” it does have a specific entry for animal cruelty. That includes cruel entertainment such as dog fighting and trade in threatened species products such as rhino horn.

Contrary to the Google email to RMEF, hunting practices are not mentioned in the policy. However, Google has user buttons where someone can flag or object to content they think inappropriate. That content gets reviewed by Google’s support services, which may decide to reject it or leave it up.

“We appreciate things were turned around in a quick manner,” Holyoak said on Tuesday. “We communicated that this is about conservation and ethical hunting.”

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