Twitter Advertisers Face Pressure From Advocacy Groups

Advertisers are being pressured by advocacy groups seeking more content moderation from Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk.

Advertisers are being pressured by civil-rights and advocacy groups seeking more content moderation from Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, who defines himself as a “free speech absolutist.”

Musk’s recent $44 billion takeover of Twitter faced controversy from the start, as the number of racist comments spiked exponentially.

The social-media company was flooded with tweets from racists and trolls, which tested whether Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla  (TSLA) – Get Tesla Inc. Report, would stand by his claim of allowing as much free speech as is allowed by law. At the same time, he has said he does want to platform to become a “hellscape.”

The number of trolls using the N-word on Twitter rose by a factor of six within 12 hours after the deal was finalized, according to a report by the Network Contagion Research Institute, a group that researches social-media content to determine threats that could materialize.

Advertising Pressure

Over 40 civil justice and advocacy groups on Nov. 1 called on Twitter’s top 20 advertisers to inform Musk that their ad dollars are contingent on whether he changes the community standards and content moderation to disallow hate speech, election disinformation and other toxic content. 

Twitter has changed its internal tools used for content moderation and other policy enforcement already, according to an article by Bloomberg.

Musk has already halted some employees from accessing internal software to stop misinformation ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, sources told Bloomberg. 

The employees, who are part of Twitter’s Trust and Safety organization, cannot change or penalize accounts that have defied rules about misleading information or posting hate speech or ones that are offensive, according to the sources. 

Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, said on Nov. 1 in a tweet that the company is “staying vigilant against attempts to manipulate conversations about the 2022 US midterms. Read on for independent analysis of our teams’ work.”

The letter was organized by Free Press, Accountable Tech and Media Matters for America.

A letter was sent to CEOs and its top executives at Twitter’s top 20 advertisers, including: Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, Capital One Financial, CBS, CenturyLink, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Best Buy, Disney, Google, Home Box Office, IBM, Merck, Meta Platforms, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Verizon.

The letter documents the swift changes Musk has made, including firing Vijaya Gadde, the head of legal, policy and trust, who was in the line of fire since she oversaw Twitter’s content policy.

The content of the letter also highlights Musk’s threat to fire employees whose job is to maintain community standards and protect user safety. And the letter cites the increase in hateful posts and misinformation since Musk took the helm, including a homophobic tweet that was shared and later deleted by Musk.

Some of the groups who signed the letter include Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Azerbaijan Internet Watch, Glaad, Jewish Women International, Muslim Advocates, NAACP, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Pflag National and TransLatin@ Coalition.

“It is only a matter of time before Elon Musk officially rolls back Twitter’s brand-safety standards and community guidelines, turning the platform into what he has always been clear he wants it to be: a supercharged engine of radicalization,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America. 

“Musk has already put Twitter on that glide path, firing employees responsible for content moderation and brand protection and even tweeting out political conspiracy theories himself.”

Major companies and brands provide more than 90% of Twitter’s revenue, he said.

Musk’s Changes to Twitter

Twitter’s platform plays a major role in public discourse and sentiment.

The general public and political circles have been waiting to find out what tweets will be acceptable on the platform under Musk’s ownership. 

The billionaire created a council that will decide whether to reactivate accounts that were banned for violating the previous administration’s rules, including that of former President Donald Trump. No other details were provided on when the group would meet or who the members will be.

Musk has brought in a friend and investor, Jason Calacanis, plus family and lieutenants from Tesla and his infrastructure firm, Boring Co., to deal with the changes he wants to put in place and generate more advertising revenue.

He has already fired CEO Parag Agrawal and three other top executives. Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and Gadde, along with Sean Edgett, the general counsel. 

Musk also fired the entire Twitter board, according to a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission released Oct. 31. He became the only board member.

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