🔒 Backlash for Elon Musk as Antisemitic content flourishes on X, sparks advertiser exodus

Outrage over rampant antisemitic content on social media platform X, allegedly endorsed by owner Elon Musk, reached a tipping point. Apple and other major advertisers pulled ads following Musk’s endorsement of a post claiming Jewish people harbour “dialectical hatred.” The White House criticised Musk’s stance, calling it unacceptable and endangering communities. With Tesla shareholders and advertisers condemning Musk, the controversy intensifies amid reports of ads appearing next to pro-Nazi content. Musk’s response adds to a growing wave of concern, prompting legal action against Media Matters for alleged misrepresentation.

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Backlash Spreads Over Musk’s Endorsement of Antisemitic Post

By Dana Hull

Outcry over unchecked antisemitic content and commentary on social media site X, some of it endorsed by the platform’s owner Elon Musk, reached a tipping point on Friday, with large advertisers such as Apple Inc. pulling ads and the White House chastising the billionaire. 

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Musk, who regularly engages with antisemitic users on X, agreed with a post that said Jewish people hold a “dialectical hatred” of white people. “You have said the actual truth,” Musk responded. 

The White House called Musk’s reply an “unacceptable” act that endangers Jewish communities. Meanwhile, several Tesla Inc. shareholders also spoke out against Musk, who is the chief executive officer of the electric car maker, with some saying he should be suspended from his post.

Americans have “an obligation to speak out against anyone who attacks the dignity of their fellow Americans and compromises the safety of our communities,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement on Friday. Musk’s companies, including Space Exploration Technologies Corp., hold several government contracts.

Musk’s remarks added to backlash sparked by a report released Thursday from Media Matters which said ads for Apple, International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp., Comcast Corp.’s Xfinity brand and the Bravo television network ran on X next to pro-Nazi content. IBM said it will stop advertising on X until the situation is resolved. The European Commission and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. also said they would pull ads on X

Walt Disney Co. said it was pausing spending on X, Paramount Global announced it was suspending all advertising, while CNBC reported Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. has halted its ad campaigns on the platform. Comcast Corp., owner of the NBCUniversal media empire, has also paused advertising on X, Puck News reported. 

The Media Matters story “completely misrepresented” the real user experience on X, Musk wrote in a post on Saturday, saying the platform plans to file a lawsuit against the company on Monday.

Apple, one of the biggest advertisers on X, said it’s taking a pause in showing ads on the site. The two companies already had a precarious relationship. After Musk took over the social network last year — unleashing a torrent of job cuts and policy changes — Apple also suspended advertising for a while. Musk escalated tensions by implying that he might break Apple’s App Store rules in order to stop paying fees.

But he and Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook met at the iPhone maker’s headquarters late last year and patched up the relationship. Musk said in December that Apple had “fully resumed” advertising on what was then called Twitter.

Cook has previously called X an “important property” but said he disagrees with the antisemitic discourse that has allegedly increased since Musk took over. He has said that the Cupertino, California-based company “constantly” asks itself if it should continue advertising. 

Axios earlier on Friday reported that Apple is pausing ads on X.

Listen: The Impact and Cost of Musk’s Endorsement of Antisemitism on X

“X has been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination,” Chief Executive Officer Linda Yaccarino said on the platform Friday, echoing her earlier remarks on the matter. “There’s absolutely no place for it anywhere in the world.” 

Musk didn’t respond to a Bloomberg News request for comment.

The latest remarks from Musk, who is the world’s richest person, come at a time of rising antisemitism and Islamophobia around the world amid the Israel-Hamas war. The Anti-Defamation League found antisemitism on X increased by more than 900% in the week following the initial Oct. 7 attack by Hamas compared to the previous week.

Last year, the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy organization, called on Musk to apologize after he deleted a controversial tweet that made a satirical comparison between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Adolf Hitler.

“I’ve just never had this with any company I’ve ever invested in, ever in my life, where the CEO of the company himself does so many detrimental things,” Ross Gerber, co-founder and chief executive officer of wealth-management firm Gerber Kawasaki Inc., said on CNBC on Thursday. “It’s destroying the brand.”

Musk has accused the ADL, a Jewish civil rights group, of undermining X’s advertising revenue by highlighting a rise in extremist content that has caused advertisers to flee. Ad sales on X are down 60% “primarily due to pressure on advertisers” mounted by the ADL, Musk said in September, after the organization said reports of harassment and extremist content spiked since he took over the company. 

In September, Musk met with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu at Tesla’s offices in Fremont, California, for a broadcast discussion and said, “obviously I’m against antisemitism. I’m against anti-anything that promotes hate and conflict.”

At the end of the long and wide-ranging conversation, Musk shared that he had attended a Jewish school while growing up in South Africa and could even sing “a great ‘Hava Nagila,’” a Jewish folk song.

Kristin Hull, founder and chief executive officer of Nia Impact Capital, said she was “appalled” by Musk’s new posts. The social-impact fund owned about $282,200 of Tesla stock as of midyear and has waged pressure campaigns against the company for years, including via shareholder resolutions.

“The impact of erratic, racist, and antisemitic speech from a CEO directly affects Tesla’s brand and bottom line in significant ways,” Hull wrote in an email Thursday. She said an appropriate response to Musk’s actions may include censure by Tesla’s board, demotion, re-assignment, suspension or removal.

The European Commission advised staff to stop advertising on X due to “an alarming increase in disinformation and hate speech,” it said in a statement on Friday, which didn’t specifically cite Musk’s posts. The move was initially reported by Politico.

“The European Commission has only advertised about $5,000 so far this year, but is still organically posting across all its X handles,” Joe Benarroch, head of business operations for X, said in a message to Bloomberg. 

X’s point of view has always been very clear that discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board — I think that’s something we can and should all agree on. When it comes to this platform — X has also been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and…— Linda Yaccarino (@lindayaX) November 16, 2023

Apple and Oracle didn’t respond to requests for comment. IBM’s decision was reported earlier by the Financial Times, while the New York Times earlier reported Disney’s move. 

X did a sweep on the accounts that Media Matters found associated with the offensive content and they will no longer be monetizable, Benarroch, said. The specific posts will be labeled “Sensitive Media.”

The X system is not intentionally placing a brand actively next to this type of content, nor is a brand actively trying to support this type of content with an ad placement, Benarroch said.

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, also head of project-management software maker Asana Inc., said Yaccarino should ask Musk, who owns X and serves as the company’s chief technology officer, to resign.

“Yaccarino faces her biggest test yet as she decides whether to terminate her antisemitic CTO or risk losing even more advertisers,” he wrote on Threads, another social media site. “How will she handle this tricky, yet morally unambiguous situation?”

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