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IBM has said it has pulled its global advertising from Elon Musk’s X following a report that the social media platform ran the tech company’s adverts alongside pro-Nazi material, in a fresh blow to the company’s efforts to bring back sales revenues.
On Thursday, left-leaning non-profit Media Matters put out a report saying it had found adverts from big brands including IBM, Apple, Oracle and Comcast’s Xfinity and Bravo running next to content “that touts Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party”.
“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.
Comcast said it was looking into the matter. Apple and Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Musk relaxed moderation policies and cut many staff involved with safety on the platform when his $44bn acquisition closed last year. Many brands, wary of being placed next to toxic content, pulled their advertising. Ad revenues fell about 50 per cent, Musk said in July.
The news will complicate efforts by X chief executive Linda Yaccarino to reassure marketers that the platform is now safe for their brands. Yaccarino, who used to head up advertising at Comcast’s NBCUniversal before joining the social media platform in June, has been on a charm offensive meeting ad agencies and brands, and has insisted the company is investing in technology to ensure brands run next to desirable content.
Some brands have also been concerned about posts made by Musk himself. The Tesla chief on Wednesday drew criticism when he appeared to agree with a post espousing an antisemitic theory.
“X’s point of view has always been very clear that discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board,” Yaccarino said in a post shortly after publication of the FT article. “When it comes to this platform — X has also been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination.”
In one screenshot, Media Matters showed an Oracle advert placed underneath a post including a photograph of a picture of Hitler and a quote by him about “truth”. Another screenshot showed an Xfinity advert beneath a post praising the Third Reich.
Musk has previously publicly challenged non-profit groups over their research suggesting that the platform is not safe for users and advertisers. For example, in September, Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League, a civil-rights group that fights antisemitism, arguing that it had been trying to “kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being antisemitic”.
An executive at X said that the account that Media Matters found next to the IBM advert would no longer be monetisable, and the specific post had been labelled “NSFW”, or not safe for work.
“While we understand it’s not an ideal placement for any ad, the post itself had about 8,000 impressions,” the executive said.
“Ads follow the people on X, in this case the Media Matters researcher that was going to actively look for this content — that’s how user targeting works. As it relates to the platform itself, control settings are in place there for every user and every brand.”