In a startling incident, first reported by Reuters, a 6-year-old in London was exposed to a graphic pro-Israel ad video while playing a puzzle game on his Android phone. The video, which showcased Hamas militants, Israeli families, and blurred graphic footage, ended with a message from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warning: “WE WILL MAKE SURE THAT THOSE WHO HARM US PAY A HEAVY PRICE.”
This incident has raised concerns about the placement of such ads in games popular among children.
The spread of the ad
Maria Julia Assis, the boy’s mother, was taken aback by the pro-Israel ad’s content and appearance in a child’s game. She isn’t the only one. Reuters has identified at least five other instances across Europe where the same video was shown to gamers, including children. In one notable case, the ad was found in the widely played “Angry Birds” game by SEGA-owned developer Rovio. Rovio acknowledged the error and is taking steps to block such content.
David Saranga, head of digital at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed the video’s origin but expressed uncertainty about its appearance in various games. He emphasized that the ministry had instructed advertisers to block the content for those under 18. The ad campaign, part of a larger advocacy drive, was initiated after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.
While the Israeli Foreign Ministry has been transparent about its digital advertising efforts, Reuters found no evidence of a similar Palestinian campaign. The Palestinian Authority, however, has been working to share evidence of the suffering in Gaza due to Israeli actions.
Concerns and reactions
The appearance of such ads in games has raised eyebrows, especially when they are found in family-friendly titles like “Alice’s Mergeland,” “Stack,” and “Subway Surfers.” Many game developers, when contacted, did not respond to queries about the ads.
In the U.K., where Assis and her son reside, the Advertising Standards Authority oversees ad campaigns. They emphasize that graphic content should be targeted away from those under 18.
The unexpected appearance of political ads in children’s games has sparked concerns about the oversight of digital advertising. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, ensuring the safety and appropriateness of content for all users remains paramount.