Fri. May 24th, 2024
Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of Twitter, gestures as he attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

IBM said Thursday it will stop advertising on X, formerly Twitter, after a report from a media watchdog organization found that its ads had appeared on the Elon Musk-owned social media site alongside pro-Nazi tweets.

“IBM has zero tolerance for hate speech and discrimination and we have immediately suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this entirely unacceptable situation,” the company said in a statement.

The report from the left-leaning nonprofit Media Matters for America, released Thursday, identified IBM as one of several blue-chip companies whose ads had appeared next to tweets that included endorsements of National Socialism, memes portraying Nazism as a spiritual awakening, and Adolf Hitler quotes presented in an inspirational style.

The pullback by IBM is the latest blow to X chief executive Linda Yaccarino’s push to lure back advertisers who have fled the site since Musk bought it a little more than a year ago. While Musk has succeeded in his bid to loosen the site’s restrictions on speech, slashing staff who used to moderate offensive content, its business has suffered, with a financial outlook that insiders have called dire.

The move from IBM came a day after Musk tweeted his agreement with an antisemitic conspiracy theory on the site, drawing fresh criticism from some civil rights leaders.

Musk was replying to an X user who said a rise in online antisemitism was actually the fault of Jews for supporting “hordes of minorities” and promoting “hatred against whites.” The user said they have no sympathy for Jews who face hateful comments such as “Hitler was right.”

Musk replied, “You have said the actual truth,” helping to amplify the user’s tweet to his vast online following. In a subsequent tweet, Musk went on to criticize the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit that combats antisemitism and extremism, saying it “unjustly attacks the majority of the West” for anti-Jewish hate rather than “the minority groups who are their primary threat.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt fired back at Musk in a tweet Thursday, saying: “At a time when antisemitism is exploding in America and surging around the world, it is indisputably dangerous to use one’s influence to validate and promote antisemitic theories.” ADL is one of a coalition of 60 advocacy groups that have called for major advertisers to boycott the platform until Musk agrees to invest in enforcing the platform’s old content moderation rules.

Musk and X did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Without mentioning Musk’s tweet directly, Yaccarino published a tweet Thursday that appeared aimed at controlling the damage. “X’s point of view has always been very clear that discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board,” she wrote.

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, said of IBM’s decision to pull its ads, “Better late than never.” He added, “They’ve been a significant buyer. They’re one of the heavy spenders who not only never pulled their ads, but never even suggested” that they were concerned about Musk’s policies.

Carusone said his organization’s research shows X can’t keep its own promises to let advertisers control the content they advertise alongside. “The extremism, the antisemitism, the white supremacy — it has tipped over to the point that you cannot insulate yourself from it.”

Civil rights groups and other advocates have taken issue with a wide range of changes that Musk has implemented including the company’s decision to dismantle its old system of verifying high-profile figures in favor of a subscription service. Musk has also reinstated once-booted account users, rolled back the company’s rules against covid-19 misinformation and gutted teams that were in charge of keeping the platform free of toxic content.

At stake is both X’s advertising business, which Yaccarino has been struggling to revive, and Musk’s increasingly influential role on the global stage. Musk had been scheduled to speak at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this week in San Francisco, but his appearance was canceled Thursday.

A spokesperson for APEC did not respond to a request for comment on whether Musk’s tweets had led to the cancellation.

Meanwhile, rising hate speech and extremist content on X has put mainstream news outlets and civil rights groups in a tough position. Many of those groups still see the platform as a critical forum to share and comment on the news, even as they evaluate or criticize Musk’s attempts to turn X into a free speech haven.

While Elon Musk’s “misguided decisions” have made “the platform more toxic and frankly a cesspool,” it’s still more popular than its competitors, said Free Press Senior Counsel Nora Benavidez, whose group helped organize the advertiser boycott against X.

“I think it’s going to take time though, to see a full migration away from Twitter and we need creators and others to take up those alternative platforms.”

The New York Times, which has been the subject of fierce criticism by Musk, nevertheless plans to host him at its annual Dealbook conference later this month. The Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The ADL also remains a presence on X, even though Musk has sparred with it and even threatened to sue it, claiming the organization spearheaded an advertiser boycott that has dented X’s business — a claim the ADL has denied. The organization plans to continue to advertise on the site, spokesperson Jake Hyman said Thursday.

“ADL needs our message to be where the antisemites and extremists are and those who may be influenced by them,” Hyman said. “Twitter/X remains a major social media platform with a massive general audience, the majority of whom do not wish to be exposed to hateful content, including those who are looking for ways to help protect themselves and others from that content.”

Thursday evening, a group of 164 Jewish leaders reiterated their call for large advertisers including Disney, Apple and Amazon to stop “funding X through their ad spend,” and called on Apple and Google to remove it from their app stores.

“None of this is surprising: Musk has been spreading antisemitism now for years,” the religious leaders wrote. “What is surprising is how many tech companies and leaders are still willing to do business with him.”