A coalition of 26 organisations has written an open letter to advertisers urging them to hold Elon Musk accountable for maintaining certain standards of community trust and safety on Twitter. In case the microblogging platform fails to comply, the advertisers should pull their advertising spending, the coalition said.
The coalition is led by Media Matters for America, Accountable Tech, and Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter for $44 billion last month has created quite a stir given his controversial stance on free speech on social media. Many believe his emphasis on not blocking people or posts in the name of free speech will amplify the problem of hate speeches and misinformation.
The coalition also said, “Under Musk’s management, Twitter risks becoming a cesspool of misinformation, with your brand attached, polluting our information ecosystem in a time when trust in institutions and news media is already at an all-time low. Your ad dollars can either fund Musk’s vanity project or hold him to account.”
Due to this concern, many users have also started exploring other similar platforms such as Mastodon and CounterSocial. Mastodon reported 30,000 new signups in a single day after the acquisition.
In the letter to the advertisers, the coalition said accounts of politicians who were blocked for hate speech and violence should not be restored, Twitter should ensure algorithmic accountability and commit to depolarising the algorithm, and lastly uphold transparency and access to its API for academic research.
These concerns stem from the fact that Musk had expressed dismay at the ban on former US President Donald Trump’s social media accounts including Twitter after the US Capitol Hill attack. Many fear that Musk may lift the ban on Trump and similar violators to push his agenda of unfettered free speech.
In a Twitter post, published May 4, Musk indicated that Twitter may start charging a fee to some users such as governments and enterprises. However, it will continue to be free for individual users.
“Twitter will always be free for casual users, but maybe a slight cost for commercial/government users,” the Twitter post said.
Advertising is a major source of revenue for social media platforms. Advertising accounted for 92% of total revenue in the first quarter of 2022 for Twitter, according to a WSJ report. Similarly, 97.9% of Facebook’s global revenue came from advertising in 2020, as per Statista.
Last July, civil rights groups in the US urged companies to pull their ads on Facebook to protest against the social network’s failure to prevent the spread of hate speech and misinformation. According to an NYT report, more than 1,000 companies including Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Walmart, and Coca Cola took a stand against Facebook. Out of these, 100 advertisers cut their ad spending on Facebook by 12%, while 9 of the top companies cut their spending from $26.2 million to $507,500 after the campaign.
The damning testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen also revealed that Facebook had deliberately ignored the online safety of users outside the US to save costs.