Jun 13, 2023 - Technology

New Twitter CEO's ad quest faces one big hurdle — the owner's tweets

Illustration of a bird cage with the Twitter logo inside being held up by a cage carrier in the shape of Elon Musk's face.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twitter's new CEO Linda Yaccarino wrote up some inspirational comments for her new staff in an e-mail on Monday, exhorting them to "reach across aisles, create new partnerships, celebrate new voices, and build something together that can change the world."

Yes, but: The man who hired her, the company's billionaire owner Elon Musk, spent the weekend posting sophomoric messages that reeked at times of misogyny and transphobia.

Why it matters: Yaccarino's job is to rescue Twitter's business, but Musk shows no interest in moderating behavior and positions that have helped drive many of the platform's advertisers away.

Details: In addition to several anti-trans tweets and replies, Musk also took pot shots at Apple, one of the site's biggest advertisers.

  • One tweet suggested that mushrooms could produce a much cheaper augmented reality than Apple's $3,500 headset, while another praised augmented reality as amazing by showing a photo illustration of what looks like a weapon targeting screen replacing the head of a stereotypically buxom female sitting in front of a plate of waffles.

Between the lines: Yaccarino, a former NBCUniversal advertising executive, has built her reputation creating environments that advertisers pay a premium for, while Musk is equally known for being unable to stop himself from tweeting, even when ordered to by federal regulators.

The big picture: It's not just Musk's tweets that are making it tough for Twitter to pitch itself as a platform to large mainstream advertisers. It's not uncommon now on Twitter for large brands to have their promoted posts appear alongside far-right content posted by personalities once banned from the site, per Media Matters For America .

  • The report showed, for example, Amazon and Samsung ads being shown alongside posts from conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer, who had previously been banned from Twitter for her attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Musk reinstated her.
  • Twitter has also changed some of its policies around hate speech, particularly as it relates to transgender people, and seen an increase in hate speech overall, according to some outside researchers.

Meanwhile, Intuit, which has hosted a Transgender summit for the past several years, was called out by LGBTQ rights advocate Alejandra Caraballo, who noted that the company's ad is being shown in close proximity to one of Musk's transphobic tweets.

The other side: While Twitter's advertising remains down substantially from a year ago, a number of large brands remain as advertisers, including several large technology companies.

  • Twitter has also remained a popular spot for media companies looking for direct response, such as newsletter sign-ups and subscriptions.

What to watch: Whether these advertisers will face increasing scrutiny from both customers and employees for continuing to support a platform and CEO whose values seem to contradict the companies'. (Advertisers that take stands perceived as more progressive can also face blowback from conservatives.)

What they're saying: Intuit told Axios that their advertising should not have appeared alongside Musk's tweet.

  • "Diversity, equity, and inclusion are foundational to our company and explicit in our values," the company told Axios. "We are strong allies and supporters of those who identify as transgender or nonbinary. We have advertising principles in support of company values and this ad should not have appeared where it did."
  • Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, nor did representatives of Apple, Amazon and Samsung.

Go deeper: Big tech still advertising on Twitter despite rise in hate speech

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