THOMAS ORITI: Elon Musk's brief reign at Twitter – extraordinary times. It's really been marked by chaos and upheaval since taking over in late October. He got rid of half of the full-time staff, prompted hundreds of engineers and others to quit last week, and now he's expected to eliminate jobs related to content moderation.
Angelo Carusone is chairman and president of the media watchdog group Media Matters. He's spoken with ABC NewsRadio's Tess Orrick and says Elon Musk's reign so far has been a mess, resulting in him losing almost all of the advertisers.
ANGELO CARUSONE [MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA CHAIR AND PRESIDENT]: More than 90% of Twitter's revenue comes entirely from advertisers, and the type of advertising that they get are not sort of like local stores or people that are trying to sell a specific product so you call the number or you click the link and you buy the product. They're mostly really just big brands sort of selling a story, and one of the things that's happened is that in the last couple of weeks, you know, we tracked this pretty closely. We've been engaged in a lot of conversations with these advertisers.
If you just look at Twitter's top 100 advertisers, they've spent more than $2 billion on the platform in the past two years. More than half of them have already walked away. That accounts for about a billion dollars worth of revenue alone moving forward, just gone overnight. Their concern is the same concern that I think a lot of users have, which is that if you get rid of all the rules, the brand safety considerations, the community safeguards, what you're left with is something that is not good for the user and certainly not good for advertisers because they don't want to have their ads running alongside extremists.
TESS ORRICK (ABC NEWSRADIO PRODUCER): And does this show kind of like a loss of faith in Musk to keep the platform going at this kind of high level that it has been?
CARUSONE: Even within the first couple of days, you started to see major media buyers begin to issue warnings to their clients saying, hey, this could get really controversial. This may not be sustainable. You may end up getting yourself embroiled in a controversy because you're enabling this, and I think to your question, that's really what's happened, is that any benefit of the doubt and any faith that advertisers have had in Elon Musk is evaporated, and I think the last straw really happened last week with the one-two punch where he, you know, got rid of a longtime advertising executive at Twitter who really was helping bridge the gaps and trying to hold it all together with most of Twitter's major partners, and then the second thing he did was he let Donald Trump back on the platform along with a whole range of anti-gay extremists and, you know, people that had been suspended or had their accounts banned for engaging in coordinated harassment against the LGBT community. He let them all back online on the platform, literally the same weekend that there was a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado, and so the juxtaposition of letting back Trump and all these other people and all these extremists when there was a shooting, I think is – really was sort of the final push for a lot of advertisers. They just don't see a way forward.
ORRICK: Yeah and of course, you can't talk about Twitter without talking about Donald Trump. So what are the wider ramifications here for letting – I know he hasn't tweeted yet at this point, but as you said, it's not just him. It's all these other people that have been allowed back on the platform under this guise of free speech. What are the wider ramifications here?
CARUSONE: And that's basically it. You know, Musk is going to continue to let back on people that are part of that larger universe, because that's going to create an increased temptation for Trump to at least reuse his account, even if that's not his primary account, even if he is just reposting what he's posting elsewhere to Twitter, that still gets it lit back up.
And the ramifications are real, in part for two big reasons. One, you know, there's still an open question as to whether or not Trump gets back on Facebook, and I think it is now almost a certainty that he gets that platform back, and that matters because he not only raises a lot of money there, which is more of a political issue. It actually was that his Facebook account was generating so much traffic when he had it that it was literally warping the algorithms. When he lost his account on Facebook, 70% of the misinformation about the 2020 election dropped overnight, and that's because the algorithms literally weren't being polluted by all the energy he was pumping into it.
And two, you know, one of the things that allowed for some distance between Trump and Fox News and the Murdochs is that he doesn't have Twitter, and therefore, he's not able to leapfrog sort of the Murdoch media empire and speak directly to those audiences. He has to sort of go with his own social platform, which is a lot smaller. He's sort of choked off, and if he gets back on Twitter, what that's going to provide him is essentially a megaphone and a catapult to jump over the traditional right-wing media, to ignore the Murdochs, to speak directly to Fox News' audience, which in turn will get the audience back revved up, which he can then leverage them against Fox News, and, you know, it sort of seems quaint now, but this is exactly what happened in 2015. The Murdochs said they were opposed to Trump. Trump then went to Twitter. He turned Fox News' audience against them, and all of a sudden the Murdochs were fully on board. So I feel like we have a real concern, a real one about history repeating itself and that whatever distance is starting to be created between Trump and sort of that part of the media will close as soon as he reactivates his Twitter account.
ORITI: It's pretty extraordinary times for Twitter. Angelo Carusone there, president of Media Matters. That's a US-based media watchdog group. He was speaking just a short time ago with ABC News Radio's Tess Orrick.