In a much-anticipated keynote interview with NBCUniversal ad chief Linda Yaccarino during the Possible conference on Tuesday, Twitter owner/CEO Elon Musk said he is fine with cooperating with advertisers on ad placements, but will draw the line at attempts to influence content policy.
Musk said he is willing to let Twitter lose money rather than let advertisers determine “what Twitter will do.” His goal, he said, is to achieve a “sensible middle ground” between meeting advertisers’ needs — such as letting their ads be in “certain places” on Twitter, and not others — and ensuring that platform users have “their voice,” reported The Wall Street Journal.
Pressed about issues of brand safety, including hate speech, Musk alluded to the policy he declared last fall — “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach” — and said that policy applies to him, as well as all other users. In his November tweet, he described the policy as “negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter… You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet.”
As revealed earlier this month, a number of CMOs at major brands had privately expressed concerns about Musk’s upcoming appearance at the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) event in Miami this week.
Some expressed particular concern about giving Musk an industry platform, given his “racist rhetoric” and the marked upswing in hate speech on Twitter since he took over, reinstated many formerly banned users, and axed the content moderation department.
On Tuesday, Musk largely stuck to the freedom of speech/not reach message, assuring advertisers that Twitter has safeguards to prevent inappropriate speech from being near ads, with Twitter’s Community Notes serving as an additional safeguard to stem the spread of misinformation, according to tweeted coverage by investment advisor Gary Black, managing partner, the Future Fund LLC. Musk argued that these safeguards must be working, because Apple and some other major brands have continued to advertise on Twitter.
Musk also argued that given that he was the most-viewed user on Twitter even before he acquired it, his political views should not matter to advertisers.
Musk’s mission in speaking at the conference was to woo back advertisers for Twitter, which lost more than half of its biggest advertisers last fall due to such brand-safety concerns. As of January, Pathmatics data showed about 625 of Twitter’s previous top 1,000 advertisers still not spending on the platform, and ad revenue down about 60% since October 2022.
Earlier this month, Musk claimed in an interview that Twitter is now “roughly breaking even,” but the basis for that claim has been elusive. As Forbes noted, recent internal valuations by Twitter suggest it is worth less than half of the $44 billion Musk paid to acquire it.
“I’m not sure if advertisers who have left TWTR because of Elon’s actions (fired people, cut costs) will suddenly return as a result of his [MMA] talk,” Black tweeted. “IMO if DAUs continue to rise, hate speech doesn’t increase, and nothing breaks, they will return for the 2024 Election and Olympics.”