The recent controversy surrounding Elon Musk’s management of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, now referred to as X, has escalated as more major advertisers pull back their spending. This development follows Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory, sparking widespread criticism and intensifying concerns among advertisers about the platform’s content moderation policies under Musk’s leadership.
Several high-profile companies, including Warner Bros. Discovery, Sony, IBM, Apple, Lionsgate, and Paramount Global, have halted their advertising on X. This collective action represents a significant blow to X’s efforts to reassure advertisers, who have been increasingly cautious since Musk’s acquisition of the platform in October 2022 and his subsequent announcement to relax content moderation rules.
The controversy ignited when Musk responded affirmatively to a post on X that accused Jewish people of perpetuating “dialectical hatred” and supporting the immigration of minorities – a narrative aligning with the ‘replacement theory.’ This theory, which alleges a Jewish-orchestrated plan to replace the white population with nonwhite immigrants, is a known antisemitic conspiracy. It has been linked to several violent incidents, including the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
The White House condemned Musk’s endorsement of this theory. Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson, criticized Musk’s statement as echoing the ideology behind the deadliest act of antisemitism in U.S. history, especially inappropriate given the recent significant antisemitic attacks.
In response to the advertising pullback, Musk threatened legal action against Media Matters, a left-wing advocacy group. Media Matters had reported finding antisemitic content on X and noted that advertisements from major brands appeared alongside this content. Musk accused the organization of a “fraudulent attack” and announced plans for a “thermonuclear lawsuit.”
X defended its content moderation, arguing that the methodology used by Media Matters to find the controversial ads was not reflective of the average user experience. According to X, only a small fraction of the day’s ad impressions were served against the reported content, suggesting effective moderation mechanisms.
In turn, Media Matters has vowed to defend itself against any legal action by X. Angelo Carusone, the president of the organization, criticized Musk for attempting to suppress reporting and emphasized the accuracy of their findings, which Musk himself had acknowledged. Carusone argued that any lawsuit by Musk would be meritless and expressed confidence in their legal position.
This ongoing situation highlights the challenges X faces in balancing free speech advocacy with the responsibilities of content moderation. The response from advertisers and the public reflects growing scrutiny of social media platforms’ roles in regulating hate speech and misinformation, especially in the context of high-profile leadership and controversial policy changes.