“Brands are now ‘protected from the risk of being next to’ potentially toxic content, [X CEO Linda] Yaccarino said. She added that if content is ‘lawful but awful’ it’s difficult to remove it from the platform, but that the company’s new content controls would reduce advertiser risk.” [CNBC, 8/10/23]
IBM announced yesterday that it is suspending its advertising on X (formerly Twitter) after Media Matters reported that the platform placed its ads next to content promoting Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. IBM isn’t alone in having issues when advertising on the platform: Following our report yesterday, we additionally found ads for Amazon, NBA Mexico, NBCUniversal Catalyst, Action Network, and Club for Growth next to white nationalist hashtags like “KeepEuropeWhite,” “white pride,” and “WLM” (“White Lives Matter”).
X’s problem with advertising comes as owner Elon Musk praised the pernicious antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jewish communities are supporting “hordes of minorities” who are “flooding” into the country to replace white people. Musk’s endorsement is just the latest example of him embracing rhetoric and conspiracy theories from the far-right fringes.
Aside from his own rhetoric, Musk has opened the floodgates to hateful content by reversing bans on anti-Muslim bigots, white nationalists, and antisemites. His company has also financially rewarded extremists, including apparently paying $3,000 to a pro-Hitler and Holocaust denial account through X’s ad revenue sharing program. (Even after criticism, X has not suspended that openly antisemitic account, which has nearly 100,000 followers.)
Advertising buys on X either come from direct buys or through its partnership with ad exchanges like Google Ads. CEO Linda Yaccarino has attempted to stem the advertiser exodus by claiming that brands are “protected from the risk of being next to” toxic posts and repeatedly writing that the platform stands against antisemitism.
But as hateful rhetoric flourishes on X, the platform’s remaining advertisers are especially affected. To summarize our past reporting:
- Pro-Hitler account. X placed ads for brands including The New York Times Co.'s The Athletic, Major League Baseball, the Atlanta Falcons, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Amazon, and Office Depot on a verified pro-Hitler account that encourages antisemitic harassment.
- Holocaust deniers. X placed ads for brands such as The Wall Street Journal, Nokia, FanDuel, and Thermo Fisher on the accounts of antisemites who have denied the Holocaust.
- Leading white nationalist group. X placed ads for Dish, Samsung, and The Wall Street Journal on the verified Twitter account of VDare, a leading white nationalist group.
- Pro-killing of LGBTQ advocates and politicians. X placed ads for MLB, Bayer, Tyson Foods, and eBay on the account of Stew Peters, a white nationalist streamer who uses the social platform to endorse the killings of politicians and LGBTQ advocates.
- Neo-Nazi group. X placed ads for Honeywell, Discovery, National Women’s Soccer League, the Pittsburgh Steelers, USA Today, and Manchester City on the verified account of the National Socialist Network, a leading neo-Nazi group.
- Pro-Hitler and Holocaust denier account. X placed ads for major sportsbooks BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel on the verified account that has drawn millions of views for posts that lionize Hitler and deny the Holocaust. The account has also said it’s been paid $3,000 this year by X.
- Antisemitic conspiracy theories about 9/11. X placed ads for the NFL, MLB, T-Mobile, and eBay alongside content pushing unhinged conspiracy theories about Jewish people orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.
We reported yesterday that X has been placing ads for Apple, Bravo (owned by NBCUniversal), IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity (Comcast) next to content that touts Hitler and his Nazi Party. IBM subsequently released a statement saying that it has “suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this entirely unacceptable situation.”
X still has a problem: Since our report yesterday, we found that the company placed ads for Amazon, NBA Mexico, NBCUniversal Catalyst (and here), Action Network (and here, here), and Club for Growth next to the white nationalist hashtags “WLM” (White Lives Matter), “KeepEuropeWhite,” “14 Words” (a reference to the leading white nationalist slogan), “white pride,” and “WPWW” (“white pride world wide”).
NBCUniversal Catalyst is “NBCUniversal’s full-service global brand agency” and was advertising for the state-run Saudi Tourism Authority. Club for Growth is a conservative organization; X has been attempting to appeal to political advertisers.
Here are examples of how those ads appeared:
Update (11/21/23): The X user who tweeted the image of Pepe the Frog along with the hashtag "#WPWW" contacted Media Matters to say that they had used the white nationalist hashtag in error due to a typo and said they would not want to spread hate or white nationalism. Whether or not the user intended to tweet a white nationalist hashtag, this was not the only example of the Amazon ad appearing next to hateful content. As the report indicates, the Amazon ad that appeared next to this Pepe the Frog post also appeared alongside a separate one declaring that it is “time for Whites to say ENOUGH” along with the hashtags “WPWW” and “WhitePRIDEWorldWide.”