With Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter in late October, marketers and advertisers are cautious and may be left wondering about the impact it will have. Already, one of the largest advertising companies, IPG’s Mediabrands, has suggested that its clients, (which include American Express, Coca-Cola Co., Johnson & Johnson, Levi Strauss & Co., Spotify and more) suspend their ads on Twitter for a week due to trust and safety concerns because of the takeover.
Although Musk has tweeted that “Twitter’s commitment to brand safety is unchanged,” the business world remains unconvinced, especially after the recent tweet in which Musk reiterated (and then deleted) the conspiratorial story about Paul Pelosi’s attacker.
Musk’s Commitment to Free Speech Has a Dark Side
The right to free speech is a core value in the United States, and people have fought diligently to maintain this right. Freedom of speech does not apply to private businesses; however, Musk has vehemently said that Twitter will remain a bastion of free speech, a “common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.” That said, since the takeover, some bad actors have already been posting racist comments on the service. Over a 12-hour period on October 28th, the use of racist words had increased by 500% from the previous average. According to Twitter's head of trust and safety, this resulted in the removal of at least 1,500 accounts that spread hateful content in the following three days.
Musk has also alluded that he will be allowing former President Trump to use his Twitter account again, which could draw many of the extremist groups that support him back to Twitter along with him.
Related Article: The Impact of the Musk Twitter Deal on Social Media Strategies
It’s Not Just Marketers Concerned About Musk’s Twitter Takeover
In May of this year, Search Engine Land published the results of a poll which indicated that 58% of marketers said they were not concerned about the Musk takeover of Twitter. Among the positive reasons cited by marketers are the verification of accounts, the removal of bots, and free speech, which conversely, the other 42% of those polled are concerned is a code word for “hate speech.”
The Global Alliance for Responsible Media — a cross-industry initiative formed by the World Federation of Advertisers to address harmful content on digital media platforms — posted an open letter to Twitter on Oct. 31 that called for improving safety on the platform for advertisers.
The next day, 40 civil society groups wrote an open letter to the CEOs of Twitter’s top 20 advertisers (which includes Amazon, Apple, The Walt Disney Co., Google and Meta) requesting that they stop advertising on Twitter globally if Musk continues to do things that “undermine brand safety and community standards by gutting content moderation.”
Related Article: Evaluating Elon Musk's Plan to Fix Twitter
The Culling of the Twitter Executives
Immediately after the acquisition was finalized, Musk fired CEO Parag Agrawal, and then he fired CFO Ned Segal and policy head Vijaya Gadde, along with Twitter’s general counsel Sean Edgett. Others, such as Twitter’s advertising liaison and chief customer officer Sarah Personette, voluntarily resigned, stating that “It has been the greatest privilege to serve all of you as a leader and a partner. Many have heard me say this but the most important role I believe I played in the company was championing the requirements of brand safety.”
Personette wasn’t the last to go. Dalana Brand, chief people and diversity officer, also announced that she had resigned, and Nick Caldwell, general manager for core technologies, confirmed his resignation on Twitter. Finally, Leslie Berland, chief marketing officer, Jay Sullivan, Twitter’s head of product, and Jean-Philippe Maheu, vice president of global sales, are also said to have left the company.
Related Article: Elon Musk's Text Exchanges Show Twitter Deal Going off the Rails
Saudi Prince Now Twitter’s Largest Shareholder After Musk
On Oct. 28, billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and his Kingdom Holding Company followed through with his commitment to Musk of a combined $1.89 billion in existing Twitter shares. This investment, which was part of the $7.1 billion equity commitment that investors made to Musk in May, made the holding company Twitter’s largest shareholder after Musk. This announcement raised the hackles of some lawmakers, such as Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who tweeted that he is asking the Committee on Foreign Investment — which reviews acquisitions of U.S. businesses by foreign buyers — to investigate the national security implications of the kingdom’s investment in Twitter
Murphy tweeted that “We should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting U.S. politics, are now the second-largest owner of a major social media platform.”
The radical changes and viewpoints that Musk seems to espouse are concerning to brands, marketers, and advertisers, as they do not wish to be associated with a platform that may potentially be seen as promoting hate speech and conspiracies, along with a culture where its executives are leaving en masse.