Companies to pause their Twitter advertising include General Mills; Mondelez International, which makes Oreos and other snacks; pharmaceutical giant Pfizer; and Volkswagen, which owns brands such as Audi, Porsche, and Bentley. Additionally, Interpublic Group, which consults on advertising strategy for large corporations including Coca-Cola and Unilever, has advised their clients to hold their money for now.
In a November 4th tweet, Musk laid the blame on unnamed “activist groups.” He wrote, “Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists. Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”
But despite Musk’s assertion that “nothing has changed,” advertisers have reportedly cited concerns about content moderation. About half of Twitter employees are expected to lose their jobs, which could make the trust and safety team, tasked with responding to harassment, racial slurs, and misinformation, slower to respond to issues. No brand wants their name to appear next to the n-word — mentions of which jumped 500% after Musk bought Twitter.
Musk himself has already contributed to misinformation on the platform. Following the brutal attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, Musk tweeted, “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” before sharing a link to an article in the Santa Monica Observer. This outlet is known to publish deliberately false information, as when they wrote that Hillary Clinton had died and been replaced by a body double. Musk shared, and subsequently deleted, claims that Paul was drunk and got into a fight with a male prostitute, an account contradicted by Paul’s 911 call, the FBI, and statements from the assailant.
The gutted trust and safety team may already be struggling. On November 4th, some Jewish Twitter users have said that they reported antisemitic comments, such as “Fuck you Jew,” “You killed my God, I hate you,” and “fire up ze ovens,” only to have the trust and safety team almost immediately close the complaints with no actions taken.
Musk’s plan to improve revenues may actually make the problem worse. He wants to charge $8 a month for verification alongside perks such as algorithmic preference and fewer ads. But the verification process, which is free on other platforms, is an attempt to combat misinformation. The blue checkmark is supposed to say that the person claiming to be a politician or reporter is actually who they say they are. If anyone can be verified as a journalist, then it becomes next to impossible to stop false news reports claiming, for example, that an attempted assassination of the Speaker of the House was actually a lover’s tiff between a drunk and a male prostitute.
Musk has claimed that people are “trying to destroy free speech in America.” But his critics and his advertisers are utilizing free speech. He just doesn’t like what he’s hearing.