Civil rights leaders issue urgent call for advertisers to exit Twitter

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Elon Musk’s photo is seen through a Twitter logo in this illustration taken October 28, 2022.

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

While Elon Musk complains publicly about advertisers abandoning Twitter due to activist pressure, a coalition of civil rights groups is escalating a call for brands to halt spending on the platform in light of what they see as inflammatory rhetoric and problematic policy changes from the company’s new owner.

The coalition, dubbed #StopToxicTwitter, consists of organizations including Media Matters, Free Press, Accountable Tech and Color of Change. Earlier this week, the coalition sent a letter to companies including Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, Capital One, Coca-Cola, Disney and Procter & Gamble to voice their concerns to Musk about increased hate and offensive speech on the platform.

The group is now urging companies to pause spending on Twitter, fearing that widespread layoffs at the company could impede Twitter’s ability to moderate content on the site.

Jessica González, co-CEO at Free Press, said at a press conference on Friday that earlier this week, Musk “promised to retain and enforce the election integrity measures that were on Twitter’s books before his takeover.”

“With today’s mass layoffs, it’s clear that Musk’s actions betray his words,” González said.

González said she is especially concerned about Twitter potentially loosening its content moderation efforts prior to next week’s midterm elections, “when we know social media goes off the rails to misinform, intimidate and harm voters of color.”

“These companies can stop their advertising from fueling intimidation, violence and pain,” she added.

Twitter gets over 90% of its revenue from advertising, though Musk has said there will be new subscription offerings with premium features. For now, ads are required to pay the bills, and Musk acknowledges that the activists are having a clear impact.

The company has suffered a “massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation,” the Tesla CEO and new Twitter owner tweeted on Friday. “We did everything we could to appease the activists.”

Angelo Clarisonic of Media Matters said in response that the pressure on Twitter is coming from advertisers and not merely the activists.

“He’s obviously trying to set up a false choice here,” Clarisonic said. “His threat is only, I think, going to escalate and increase the likelihood for more advertising to come because it just validates and reinforces the very concern that the coalition has.”

González said that when she spoke to Musk earlier this week, “he seemed genuine but his actions have betrayed his words.”

“He’s shown in the past few days that he’s not going to live up to His promises,”  González said.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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