Major US airline operator United Airlines has announced it is suspending advertising on Twitter as concerns grow about the new direction of social media under new owner Elon Musk. Hate speech, misinformation and anti-Semitic content have soared on the platform since he took over last week, as the South African-born billionaire vowed to restore “freedom of speech” on Twitter.
A United Airlines spokesman confirmed to Reuters on Friday that the company had suspended ad spending on Twitter. The airline joined companies such as multinational food manufacturer General Mills (maker of Cheerios), automaker Audi and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to suspend their advertising on Twitter as the Musk era begins.
Bloomberg reported on Friday that Microsoft, HBO and Verizon are considering the same move, but have taken a “wait and see” approach for now.
On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on all advertisers to sever their relationship with Twitter and offered harsh criticism of Musk’s leadership.
A number of human rights groups including the ADL, a Jewish non-governmental organization that focuses on combating anti-Semitism and extremism and specializes in civil rights law, met with Musk this week to discuss the increase in tweets containing hate speech, racial slurs, anti-Semitism, extremism and misinformation since he took over Twitter last week. The groups also reportedly pressed Musk on content moderation practices, which he has rolled back, and US electrical integrity ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections.
On Friday, the ADL asked companies and commercial operations to stop spending money on advertising on Twitter. The Network Contagion Research Institute, which monitors the spread of online hate and misinformation, said anti-Semitic content on Twitter was experiencing a “prolific increase” and that “the most engaged tweets are clearly anti-Semitic”.
The Stop Hate For Profit Coalition, a group that includes the ADL, said in a statement that since their meeting, “hate and misinformation have proliferated” and Musk “has taken actions that make us fear the worst is yet to come.”
Musk laid off about half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees on Friday, including many working on content moderation capabilities.
Musk said last week that he won’t make major decisions about content or reinstatement of banned accounts until he establishes a “content moderation board” with diverse opinions. He reiterated that on Wednesday, adding that the board he is assembling will include “the civil rights community and groups facing hate-fueled violence.”
Tesla’s CEO, who has fueled conspiracy theories, has said publicly that he would let former US President Donald Trump back on the site, although Trump – who normally offers his own Truth Social platform – has given no indication whether he will return.
In their meeting with Musk this week, human rights groups urged Twitter to establish a transparent process for 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 election. More than 900 people have been charged with federal crimes in the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol, a violent event that has 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 advertisers turn to for digital marketing. Google, Amazon and Meta account for about 75% of digital advertising, with all other platforms combined for the remaining 25%.
Twitter will account for 0.9% of global digital ad spending in 2022, according to Insider Intelligence estimates. The target will be 21.4% in 2022.
Twitter has lost most of its top executives over the past week, including the one in charge of advertising sales.