Advertisers pause spending on X following Elon Musk scandal

Last week, Elon Musk started receiving massive backlash after he showed support for an antisemitic conspiracy theory post on X.

Advertisers pause spending on X following Elon Musk scandal
Elon Musk Twitter account is seen in this illustration taken, July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The backstory: Since Elon Musk bought Twitter and rebranded it as X over a year ago, ad sales have been dropping pretty consistently. The platform has been loosening content moderation rules, which has led to more offensive and hateful posts. Well, advertisers don’t really want their stuff showing up next to content like that. 

In September, Musk said that X’s ad commerce dropped by 60%, putting the blame on the Anti-Defamation League. For a while, he’s been saying that research groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Center for Countering Digital Hate have been publishing info that makes X look bad and forces advertisers out. 

More recently: Last week, Elon Musk started receiving massive backlash after he showed support for an antisemitic conspiracy theory post on X. The original post seemed to promote the conspiracy theory known as "white genocide," which says that Jewish communities push for the immigration of "non-white" people to Western countries to get rid of the white race. This conspiracy theory is racist and antisemitic, but Musk responded to the post, calling it the “actual truth.” 

X CEO Linda Yaccarino tried to clean up the mess by sending a note to employees saying that “X is a platform for everyone” and “discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board.” Later, she also posted about the platform’s dedication to fighting antisemitism and discrimination. Even the White House weighed in on the scandal, with its spokesman calling the post an “abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate.” Last Thursday, nonprofit watchdog Media Matters for America also published a report showing that Apple, IBM, Amazon, Oracle and other ads have been shown next to far-right posts.

The development: Over the past few days, some major advertisers have paused ad spending with X because of this whole situation. At the moment, this includes Warner Bros. Discovery, Sony, IBM, Apple, Lionsgate, Disney, Comcast and Paramount Global. But, Musk is blaming other research groups for the ad pull-out, threatening a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against Media Matters and anyone else launching a “fraudulent attack” on X. The platform says that the research strategy used in the Media Matters report doesn’t represent how regular users act on the platform. But Media Matters said that it’s prepared to fight back against a lawsuit, with the president telling CNN, “If he does sue us, we will win.”

Key comments:

The post that Musk endorsed and led to the ad spending freeze reads: “Jewish communities have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them. I'm deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest shit now about Western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that support flooding their country don't exactly like them too much. You want truth said to your face, there it is.”

"It's not just advertising adjacent to this kind of horrendous content, it's also the creator program that Musk rolled out," said Ruben Schreurs, chief strategy officer at media investment analysis firm Ebiquity.

In a statement, IBM said it “has zero tolerance for hate speech and discrimination, and we have immediately suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this entirely unacceptable situation.”