My heart goes out to the people of Israel. There is no excuse for the atrocities that Hamas committed on October 7, 2023. None. It’s so sad. At the same time, there are so many Palestinian civilians in Gaza who are paying the price for Hamas’ crimes. The death toll keeps rising and my heart goes out to them too.
As all this is happening, we have X (formerly known as Twitter). Elon Musk refuses to be muzzled and he expresses his views freely -- even ones that are viewed as antisemitic -- while X CEO Linda Yaccarino is trying to build a successful advertising business.
This time, Musk posted to an X user that they “said the actual truth” after the user claimed that the Jewish people “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.”
To be completely transparent, who understands what dialectical hatred means -- and why would Jewish people who are predominantly white hate on white people in general?
The word "dialectical" is somehow a reference to Marxist dialectics having to do with the subversion of societal ideals. It is not easily apparent whether Musk is supporting a coherent viewpoint or whether his real goal is to encourage openness on his platform.
There are two other things to consider here, aside from the inappropriateness or poor timing of Musk's post. One is his own personal free speech, and the other is his goal to make X a platform where free speech is encouraged, and both are a problem for X's business.
Anyone with a degree in communications or who has spent any time working in media knows that free speech is antithetical to corporate advertising. Corporate communication -- including advertising outreach -- is highly filtered and curated, while free speech is not.
From a business perspective, X will have a difficult time growing a corporate advertising business while promoting and hosting free speech.
It's like having a race car and trying to win the Indy 500 with the parking brake engaged. The freer the speech, the less likely it will be that advertisers will want to advertise on the platform.
As a start-up business, if someone were to go to investors with any media acumen at all with the idea for a social-media platform based on free speech and supported by advertising, they would be laughed at and unlikely to win investment. It only works here because Musk is leading it and he has been so successful.
X is trying to bridge the two goals using AI and advertiser safety settings.
However, like so much of AI right now, it is falling short, and advertisers' ads are still being posted alongside hateful or politically incorrect posts. At least, that's what has been reported.
If Musk continues to stir up controversy and X keeps going down the current path of being an unfiltered place for free speech, Yaccarino will continue to have a hard time with advertisers.
From a leadership perspective, Musk is not doing Yaccarino any favors. As a leader, he is supposed to be giving her everything she needs to be successful.
His goal with his post might have been to encourage openness or to drive attention to X, but unfortunately, one side effect is that he is making her job much more difficult.
What Musk says not only impacts X, but it also affects his other business ventures including Tesla, The Boring Company, SpaceX, Neuralink and xAI. All these companies have investors, and his words have the power to cause their equity to lose value. Musk does not own any of these companies outright.
No one likes to be muzzled, and free speech is part of the U.S. Constitution. We may not always like what we hear, but at least we are free to speak our minds.
In some ways, Musk's goal to make X a public forum for free speech is a noble one. Musk is not wrong for wanting to make free speech available.
We all see cancel culture at work, and some of us have experienced it firsthand. If you have ever been caught on the wrong side of a media bubble, it can be terribly unfair. People need to be exposed to both sides of arguments even if they disagree with one side or the other.
The idea of using AI to avoid posting ads next to hateful speech is a good one, if X can make it work.
However, X will still contain that kind of language even if advertisers' ads are not directly next to it. It's not ideal.
Meta successfully operates two social-media services -- Facebook and Instagram. It might make more sense for X to do the same and split into two services with one being a filtered space supported by advertising and the other a place for free speech. X could revive the Twitter brand name for the former and use the X name for the latter.
If Musk can muzzle it, and X can improve brand safety, Yaccarino will at least have a fighting chance to fix X's ad business.
If not, she will likely be gone, and X will need to scramble to find someone else or a new business model that is not based on advertising.
A lot of people like X, and it would be wonderful if they could figure out a path forward that works both for users and as a viable business entity.
Knowing Musk and his past track record of success, the odds are in X's favor.