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Hours before news broke Thursday that he had completed his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, Elon Musk wrote an open letter to advertisers stressing that he did not want the platform to become a “free for all.”

But this attempt to reassure the advertising industry, which makes up the vast majority of Twitter’s business, was quickly overshadowed by Musk’s early days as the platform’s new owner. Some industry experts are now predicting that the advertiser exodus will come sooner than expected.

Within its first 24 hours of ownership, there were several reports that racist comments, hate speech and other objectionable content had increased exponentially on Twitter as users tested Musk’s promise that he would allow “freedom of expression” on the platform. Then over the weekend, Musk was widely criticized for posting on Twitter (and then deleting it without providing a reason) a link to a fringe conspiracy theory about the violent attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“I think advertisers are preparing to leave,” said Claire Atkin, co-founder of adtech watchdog Check My Ads. “It’s very likely to be a seismic shift for marketers and advertisers.”

After months of uncertainty about Musk’s impending acquisition, advertisers now must face questions about how Musk will change the platform, which also plays in the digital advertising space despite its outsized political influence. Known as an innovative entrepreneur and curious figure, Musk has promised to rethink Twitter’s content-modification policies and roll back a permanent ban on controversial figures, including former President Donald Trump.

Brands have always been sensitive to the types of content their ads display, a problem compounded by social media. Most marketers are intimidated by the idea of ​​displaying their ads alongside toxic content such as hate speech, pornography, or misinformation. And if Twitter continues to struggle with a small increase in such content — or if Musk updates Twitter policies to explicitly allow some — companies may stop advertising there for fear of risks to their brands, or because they reach a smaller audience if regular users leave. also.

“If you think about the money, the investment and the sponsorship, the real care and the attention that goes into connecting with consumers, then your ad gets posted next to the lies… it goes against everything the brand wants to do,” Atkin said.

Musk before chirp “I hate advertising” and noted his desire to make the platform less dependent on it, as he faces the fact that about 90% of Twitter’s revenue comes from ads. In addition to the open letter to advertisers, Musk’s team spent Monday “meeting with the marketing and advertising community” in New York, According to Jason Calacanisa member of Musk’s inner circle.

In public and private conversations with advertisers, Twitter is too compressed that its content policies have not changed after the acquisition, and Musk has changed He said They won’t change until a new content board is appointed (apparently to replace the company The current Trust and Security Council).

But Musk could face an uphill battle. Twitter’s digital advertising business is much smaller than that of Meta, Google, and Amazon, and it doesn’t enjoy the growth and demographics of TikTok users. Many brands have already cut back on digital advertising spending in recent months amid the economic downturn. It may not take much for brands to cut back on more.

General Motors (GM), which competes with Musk’s Tesla (TSLA), said Friday it will pause paying for advertising on Twitter while it evaluates the “new trend for Twitter.” On Monday, CNN reached out to more than a dozen other brands advertising on Twitter, and most did not respond. Toyota (TM), another Tesla (TSLA) competitor, told CNN it was “in discussions with key stakeholders and monitoring the situation” on Twitter. “At this point, we haven’t considered taking any action,” Ben and Jerry said.

On Monday, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, a leading consortium of advertisers and platforms, including Twitter, published an open letter to Musk, encouraging him to ensure Twitter continues to comply with the group’s Standards, which define hate speech, violence, harassment and insensitive treatment of social issues. discussed as “not appropriate for any advertising support”. In response to the message, Musk said in a tweetTwitter’s commitment to brand integrity remains unchanged, Sarah Personnett, Twitter’s chief customer officer, added that the company takes brand integrity and its partnership with the organization very seriously. (Personnet tweeted on Tuesday that quit from the company last week.)

Also on Monday, Angelo Caruson, CEO of Media Matters for America, the media watchdog, tweeted, calling on Twitter’s top advertisers to “put pressure on Twitter right now” to better address the increase in hate and other toxic content. On Tuesday, a group of more than 40 civil society organizations, including Media Matters, NAACP, GLAAD, and the Center for Combating Digital Hate, sent an open letter to major advertisers on Twitter calling for them to stop advertising on the platform if Musk downgrades it. to modify the content.

“Advertisers are very sensitive to the changing social media landscape,” Atkin said, adding that the question now on Twitter is “whether Elon Musk can continue to mediate trust with advertisers or whether he will continue to sow uncertainty and fear.”

In response to a request for comment on this story, a Twitter representative for CNN referred to previous tweets by Musk, Personette and Musk’s message to advertisers, as well as a tweet by Twitter’s Head of Safety and Integrity Yoel Roth, noting that the platform’s policies were not. It hasn’t changed, even though it has been experiencing an increase in hate content from mostly non-human accounts.

In a separate tweet on Monday, Roth said the company has since Saturday been “focused on addressing the rise in hateful behavior on Twitter.” He added, “We’ve made significant progress, removing more than 1,500 accounts and reducing impressions on this content to almost zero.”

An advertising executive told CNN Monday that dozens of their clients have reached out in recent days for guidance on the situation.

“It seems like a reasonable time for advertisers to rethink things,” said David Karpf, assistant professor in the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs. “I think advertisers will look at this and say, Is a poor Twitter ad product becoming a better or worse investment? And it’s going to be the same or a little worse… Advertisers are definitely not going to start spending more on Twitter anytime soon.”

There is precedent for advertisers to stay away from platforms due to hateful content. In 2020, dozens of brands publicly signed up to the advertiser’s #StopHateForProfit boycott of Facebook, which invoked the platform for its “repeated failure to meaningfully address the widespread spread of hate on its platforms.”

But when it comes to Twitter, brands may have to tread carefully to avoid the backlash. After GM announced it was discontinuing its Twitter advertising, some users on the platform, including some right-leaning political figures, called for a boycott of the automaker.

With Musk positioning himself as a “freedom of speech” extremist, and enjoying strong support among many conservative politicians, brands risk being framed as anti-free speech if they walk off the stage. But brands also risk appearing to tacitly endorse hate speech and other harmful content if they remain, meaning many may decide to quietly stop their ads on the site without an official announcement.

“Advertisers are finding it difficult to publicly influence the unwinnable situation,” the advertising executive told CNN.

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