Elon Musk to hold Twitter Spaces with advertisers - The Washington Post

2 months ago 20

Elon Musk is meeting with some of Twitter’s largest advertisers and marketing partners on Wednesday as the billionaire looks to keep the organizations that provide his new company with most of its revenue from abandoning the platform.

The move comes days after Musk — who acquired Twitter in a $44 billion deal last month — threatened a “thermonuclear name & shame” campaign against advertisers that leave the site out of concern for his approach to content moderation.

Musk will speak to a vetted group of advertisers on “Twitter Spaces,” a live audio conversation feature on the platform. WPP, one of the biggest ad agencies in the world, is among those participating, according to a person familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Topics for the discussion are unclear, but last week Musk said Twitter was facing a “massive drop in revenue” as advertisers paused campaigns on the platform. A coterie of large advertisers and marketing agencies have said they will slow down or pause spending on the site while they assess how Musk operates it.

The day before he closed the deal Musk tweeted a statement committing to keeping the site from becoming a “free for all hellscape.” But soon after, he himself boosted a conspiracy theory about the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, shaking advertisers’ faith that he would maintain rules against misinformation and hate speech.

Musk has been scrambling to shore up the company’s revenue streams, cut costs by laying people off and find new ways to make money as he faces the reality of having to pay around $1 billion a year in interest on the debt he accrued buying Twitter. The vast majority of Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising. A potential recession and rising inflation has already deeply cut into ad budgets, making now a particularly hard time for the entire digital ad industry.

At the same time, advertisers are hypersensitive to the kind of content their ads might appear beside. Musk has repeatedly said he wants to maintain content moderation standards, but by cutting half of the company’s employees activist groups and advertisers have grown doubtful the company will be able to maintain its standards on keeping hate speech and violent and sexual content out of people’s feeds.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson called on businesses to drop their advertisements on Twitter “until actions are taken to make Twitter a safe space.” Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” accused businesses that participate in the boycott of “trying to destroy free speech in America.”

Automakers Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen have all pulled their Twitter ads, along with cereal and snack companies General Mills and Mondelez, the corporation behind Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers and Sour Patch Kids candy. International ad and consulting firm Interpublic Group, which represents American Express, Coca-Cola, Fitbit, Spotify and dozens of other major corporations, has also advised its clients to suspend Twitter ad buys for now.

“A thermonuclear name & shame is exactly what will happen if this continues,” Musk tweeted Friday as more companies began their advertising exits, threatening to unleash his rowdy online fans on businesses and executives that desert the platform.

In his brief tenure, Musk has laid off roughly half of Twitter’s workforce, decimating content moderation and engineering teams days before Tuesday’s midterm elections. As the company’s remaining staff struggled to keep up with complex infrastructure challenges, the company moved to hire back some of those displaced employees.

Musk has plans to sell Twitter’s blue verification badge for $8 per month, he said, but without actually verifying users’ identities. Critics are worried the change will create havoc on a platform that already struggles with the proliferation of disinformation, bots and scammers.

The company said it would instead give officially-verified accounts a new badge to denote they’ve been confirmed to be who they say they are. It began rolling out to government officials, celebrities, news organizations and corporations Wednesday, but then some people lost the new badges. Musk soon tweeted he had “killed it” and a Twitter executive clarified later that the company was focusing on using them for “government and commercial entities” instead of individuals.

Since taking over, Musk has taunted politicians — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — on the platform, made jokes about masturbation, propagated misinformation about the attack on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and imposed draconian restrictions on parody accounts.

Those and other of Musk’s moves have scared advertisers.

“Advertisers are not being manipulated by activist groups, they are being compelled by established principles around the types of companies they can do business with. These principles include an assessment of the platforms commitment to brand safety and suitability,” Lou Paskalis, the president of a major marketing firm, MMA Global, tweeted at Musk.

Musk blocked Paskalis — then unblocked him — after the exchange.

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