Advertisers are reportedly concerned about Twitter CEO Elon Musk's behavior and where he's taking the platform. They should be.
On April 18, Twitter CEO Elon Musk will speak at a conference with some of the biggest advertisers, attempting to court them back after many abandoned the platform out of brand safety concerns. Several of these top advertisers are reportedly — and rightly — concerned about Musk, noting his “harmful and often racist rhetoric” and the direction he has taken the platform.
As Media Matters and other organizations have warned, Twitter has transformed under Musk’s chaotic and unpredictable tenure into a platform that embraces and seemingly favors the content of white nationalists, serial misinformers, and far-right extremists. As he has unilaterally reinstated accounts previously banned for posting harmful content, gutted the company’s content moderation team, and eliminated policies protecting users’ safety, there has also been significant increases in misinformation and hate speech on the platform.
These changes have rightly made advertisers wary about spending for ads on Twitter, and many have stopped advertising on the platform:
- Around a month after Musk’s takeover, Media Matters found that 50 of the top 100 advertisers — which accounted for nearly $2 billion on the platform since 2020 and over $750 million in 2022 alone — either announced or seemingly stopped advertising on Twitter.
- In an analysis of Pathmatics advertising data, Media Matters found that Twitter made nearly $66 million less in ad revenue between January and March 2023 compared to the same months in 2022. Advertisers spent $226.5 million in January through March of this year — $66 million less than advertisers’ spend of $292.8 million in January through March last year. Notably, impressions also dropped significantly, with the later ads garnering over 12.5 billion fewer impressions.
- Since Musk has taken over, the company has lost nearly 50% of its monthly ad revenue — trending down from $141 million in October 2022 to $71 million in March 2023 — according to an analysis of Pathmatics data.
Regardless of what Musk may say on April 18, advertisers should beware that their ads could be shown next to misinformation, extremism, conspiracy theories, and bigotry that Musk has allowed — and even contributed to — since taking over Twitter.
Under Musk, hate speech, misinformation, and conspiracy theories have skyrocketed on Twitter
- Media Matters found that nearly 50% of all accounts tweeting QAnon terms between October 21-31, 2022, were created after April 1, when Musk first offered to buy the platform.
- In December 2022, The New York Times reported that the average number of slurs against Black Americans increased on Twitter from 1,282 a day pre-Musk to 3,876 times post-Musk.
- Similarly, the Times found that slurs against gay men were posted on Twitter 2,506 times a day pre-Musk compared to 3,964 times post-Musk.
- The New York Times also reported that in the two weeks after Musk acquired the platform, antisemitic posts referring to Jews or Judaism grew more than 61%.
- Media Matters found that after Musk’s takeover, anti-LGBTQ bigtory skyrocketed; 9 accounts that used the anti-LGBTQ slur “groomer” saw an increase of their retweets by 1,200% and increased their mentions in tweets with the slur by 1,100%.
- The actual use of the term also exploded; in March, the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that the number of tweets that pushed the anti-LGBTQ “grooming” narrative jumped 119% in the months after Musk took over.
- Media Matters identified 19 previously banned accounts either hosted or made significant contributions to at least 45 Twitter “Spaces” in January 2023 alone, allowing misinformation to research a combined total of nearly 977,000 listeners.
- The Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that from June 2022 (pre-Musk takeover) to February 2023 (post-Musk takeover), “the weekly average number of antisemitic Tweets increas[ed] by 106% (from 6,204 to 12,762).”
- The Anti-Defamation League found that Twitter removed or sanctioned only 28% of antisemitic tweets that were reported by ADL between December 16, 2022, and January 19, 2023. ADL is a “trusted flagger,” meaning that the content it reports allegedly receives priority for review.
- NewsGuard detailed that in just the first week of March, 25 users who were “verified” by Musk’s Twitter Blue system posted at least 141 tweets that contained misinformation, which were viewed nearly 27 million times.
Musk has unilaterally taken over Twitter’s content moderation, reinstating far-right accounts and letting misinformation proliferate
- Musk ignored assurances to civil rights activists that he would create a clear process for content moderation and reinstating previously banned accounts. As a result, Media Matters has found that Musk reinstated at least 62 right-wing accounts, including far-right media, election and vaccine misinformers, and white nationalists. Collectively, these accounts reach over 26 million followers.
- In just the six days after Musk asked on November 23, 2022, “Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts,” Platformer reported that Twitter “has begun the process of reinstating roughly 62,000 accounts with more than 10,000 followers.”
- In multiple analyses of independent software developer Travis Brown’s Twitter data sets, Media Matters found that Musk seemingly favors the reinstatement of right-wing users. Between December 7 and 13, 2022, 28% of the top 50 most-followed reinstated users promoted right-wing content, and from December 14-20, 2022, 60% of the top 50 reinstated users pushed right-wing content to their over 6 million combined followers.
- The Associated Press reported that “tweets containing ‘climate scam’ or other terms linked to climate change denial rose 300% in 2022.”
- Media Matters found that Twitter interactions with election denier Dinesh D’Souza rose more than 144% in the 24-day period after Musk took over.
Musk’s own behavior on the platform amplifies misinformation
- Media Matters found that Musk caters to the far-right by reinstating and interacting with right-wing Twitter accounts responsible for spreading bigotry and misinformation; between October 27 and December 13, 2022, Musk engaged with these types of accounts at least 170 times.
- In March, Media Matters found that Musk boosted QAnon influencer Kanekoa at least 24 times by replying to the conspiracy theorist’s tweets since the account was reinstated in December 2022.