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United Airlines joins Pfizer, Audi in move to suspend Twitter ads amid Musk takeover

Firms pause ad spending as hate speech, antisemitism, extremism proliferate on platform

Twitter headquarters on 10th Street on November 4, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (David Odisho/Getty Images/AFP)
Twitter headquarters on 10th Street on November 4, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (David Odisho/Getty Images/AFP)

Major US airline operator United Airlines said it was suspending advertising on Twitter as concerns have been mounting over the new direction for the social media under new owner Elon Musk. Since his takeover last week, hate speech, disinformation and antisemitic content have surged on the platform as the South African-born billionaire has vowed to restore “free speech” on Twitter feeds.

A United Airlines spokesperson confirmed to Reuters on Friday that the company suspended ad spending on Twitter. The airliner joined firms like multinational food manufacturer General Mills (maker of Cheerios), automaker Audi and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to pause their Twitter advertising as the Musk era begins.

Bloomberg reported Friday that Microsoft, HBO and Verizon were weighing the same move but taking a “wait-and-see” approach for now.

On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on all advertisers to suspend their relationship with Twitter, offering a harsh critique of Musk’s leadership.

A number of civil rights groups including the ADL, a Jewish non-governmental organization that aims to combat antisemitism and extremism and specializes in civil rights law, met with Musk this week to discuss the uptick in tweets containing hate speech, racial slurs, antisemitism, extremism and disinformation since he took the helm at Twitter last week. The groups also reportedly pushed Musk on content moderation practices that were paused and elections integrity in the US ahead of the midterms on Tuesday.

By Friday, the ADL made the plea to companies and commercial operations to cease spending ad money on Twitter. The Network Contagion Research Institute, a firm that monitors the spread of online hate and disinformation said anti-Jewish content on Twitter was experiencing a “prolific surge,” and that “the most engaged tweets are overtly antisemitic.”

The Stop Hate For Profit coalition, a group that includes the ADL, said in a statement that since their meeting “hate and disinformation have proliferated” and Musk “has taken actions that make us fear that the worst is yet to come.”

Musk on Friday laid off about half of Twitter’s 7,500-strong staff, including many working on content moderation capabilities.

Musk said last week he won’t make major decisions about content or restoring banned accounts before setting up a “content moderation council” with diverse viewpoints. He reiterated that point on Wednesday, adding the council he’s assembling will include “the civil rights community and groups who face hate-fueled violence.”

The Tesla CEO has publicly said that he would let former US President Donald Trump back on the site, though Trump — who routinely touts his own platform Truth Social — has given no indication as to whether he will return.

The civil rights groups had urged in their meeting with Musk this week that Twitter establish a transparent process on how it plans to restore banned accounts.

Twitter banned Trump last year, three days after thousands of his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6 and attacked police officers following his defeat in the 2020 elections. More than 900 people have been charged with federal crimes for the attack on January 6 at the Capitol, a violent event that sparked a House investigation.

Musk took control of Twitter last week after buying it for $44 billion.

About 90% of Twitter’s revenue comes from advertisers but it’s far from the biggest platform that advertisers turn to for digital marketing. Google, Amazon and Meta account for about 75% of digital ads, with all other platforms combined making up the other 25%.

Twitter will account for 0.9% of worldwide digital ad spending in 2022, according to projections by Insider Intelligence. Meta will account for 21.4% in 2022.

Twitter has lost most of its top executives in the past week, including the one in charge of advertising sales.

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