Twitter rushes to reassure advertisers that it will remain a safe place for brands after Elon Musk takes over the company, as campaign groups that staged a 2020 Facebook advertising boycott warn that the Tesla Chief’s Emphasis on Free Speech Could Increase Toxicity and Abuse.
The San Francisco-based company wrote to agencies following Monday’s announcement of the $44 billion deal, insisting the company remains committed to ensuring its ads aren’t placed alongside of harmful or offensive content, according to an email seen by the Financial Times.
The awareness reflects fears that Musk’s declared stance as a “free speech absolutist” could hurt Twitter’s $4.5 billion-a-year ad business built around the platform. social media appealing to traditional marketers.
The company’s commitment to “brand safety” was challenged by Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, which led the 2020 Stop Hate for Profit campaign against Facebook, when dozens of brands, including Unilever, Ford and Coca-Cola, have pulled their spending from the social network.
“Twitter has made progress in combating hate and extremism online in recent years, and so while we want to be cautiously optimistic about how Elon Musk will handle the platform, he hasn’t shown focus on these issues to date,” said Greenblatt. “We fear he could take things in a very different direction.”
Other campaign groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Color of Change, expressed similar concerns, while Brussels also warned Musk that Twitter must comply with new EU rules. on content moderation.
Twitter declined to comment.
Initial reaction from advertisers to the change in ownership was mixed. Some have hailed Musk’s plans to authenticate users and crush fake accounts or “bots,” while others fear he could undo progress Twitter has only recently begun to make to improve moderation of its content.
“Generally, Musk’s comments are expected to lead to Twitter becoming more toxic and less brand-friendly,” said Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at media agency GroupM. Actively reversing its abuse policy is “not something that would be well received” by brands, Wieser added.
“Advertisers are considering the possibility of having to redirect their spending,” said a senior agency executive.
Most advertisers are willing to wait and see, rather than withdrawing their budgets immediately. “A reduction in fake accounts would be positive,” said Mark Read, chief executive of the WPP marketing group. “We need to see what impact Elon Musk has on Twitter’s moderation policies and content.”
However, brands and executives in one industry in particular have already begun to sound the alarm: automakers.
Some automakers fear their marketing campaign plans will leak to Tesla, according to an agency executive, as they are also reluctant to spend money on a platform now closely associated with one of their most big rivals.
Henrik Fisker, chief executive of electric vehicle maker Fisker, deleted his Twitter account shortly after the deal was announced, asking people to follow him on Instagram instead.
General Motors said, “We will review Twitter’s standards and approach as it evolves under its new ownership structure and determine the best course of action for our business and our consumers.”
Stephan Loerke, chief executive of the World Federation of Advertisers, a trade body, said: “Where you place your ads and the content next to them on the platform has an impact on the reputation of the business.
“We hope that the new [Twitter] leadership understands the need for balanced moderation in addition to these necessary checks [for users and advertisers].”
Additional reporting by Steff Chávez, Patricia Nilsson and Peter Campbell