Elon Musk may have put the final nail in X’s coffin. On Wednesday, Musk appeared to endorse an antisemitic post by user @breakingbaht alleging that “Jewish communities have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” In response, Musk posted, “You have spoken the actual truth.”
The original post seemed to echo the beliefs of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which is popular among white supremacists and right-wing extremists. The backlash has been swift. In a statement earlier today, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates condemned the “abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate in the strongest terms, which runs against our core values as Americans,” and marquee advertisers have been quick to pull their business. IBM, Liongsgate, and the European Union have pulled advertising from X in response to Musk’s post. According to a report in Axios, Apple has also paused advertising on X.
At the time of publication, Apple had not responded to multiple requests for comment, nor has it confirmed that it is pulling its advertising from X.
“Advertisers like IBM and Apple aren’t just big names, they’re big spenders on X,” says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a media watchdog group which has been tracking advertiser behavior on X. Carusone, citing data shared by data insights firm Sensor Tower, says that in July, the top five advertisers on X by spending were Apple, FinanceBuzz.io, Amazon, Mondelez International, and Hewlett-Packard. In the past, Apple has frequently been among the top 20 advertisers on X.
Carusone adds that Apple typically signals a certain level of brand safety to other, smaller advertisers. The company is also known for its stringent policies around controversial content in its App Store and on its own platforms. If Apple has paused, or plans to pause, its advertising on X, it “could have a halo effect,” Carusone claims, scaring other advertisers away from the platform. “It goes way beyond money.”
In August, X CEO Linda Yaccarino emphasized that the company was expanding its brand-safety tools, designed to give advertisers and marketers more control over what kind of content their ads appeared in proximity to.
This recent spate of antisemitic content on X, and the juxtaposition of big-brand ads next to it, only underscores to advertisers that X is a risky bet, experts argue. “Even with those tools, if you’re an advertiser right now you’re thinking, there’s quite literally nothing I can do on this platform to improve my experience,” Carusone says.
“The problem with X is not only that there’s misinformation and antisemitic content on the platform, and other hateful content as well, but that it’s being spread by Musk himself,” says Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst for social media at Insider Intelligence, a market research firm.
“The brand safety concern for advertisers isn’t just about the content but about the platform and the leadership.” Enberg argues that Musk has treated the company like something he could remake in his own image, not understanding that “what he wants and what he seemingly believes is not necessarily aligned with what users and advertisers on the platform want and believe.”
Under Musk’s leadership, X is expected to see an unprecedented 54 percent drop in advertising revenue, which previously accounted for more than 90 percent of the company’s total.
Even before Musk took ownership of then-Twitter, experts worried that his particular brand of free speech absolutism would lead to a flood of trolls and hate speech on the platform. In his first weeks as owner, Musk laid off nearly everyone working on trust and safety, the teams responsible for ensuring that hate speech, violence, and inappropriate content stay off the platform. (Hate speech did, in fact, increase under Musk’s leadership.) Musk’s lax approach to content moderation also nearly got the platform banned during the 2022 presidential runoffs in Brazil, the platform’s third largest market.
In response, advertisers began to flee, worried about the brand safety risks of their products appearing next to hateful or inflammatory posts. Since joining X as CEO earlier this year, Yaccarino, formerly global advertising lead at NBCUniversal, has seemingly been hampered in her ability to woo back advertisers by Musk’s decisions. And while X has claimed it was regaining advertisers, an October study from Media Matters found that X’s 100 largest advertisers were spending 90 percent less than they did before Musk’s takeover.