Hate speech group calls Musk “thin-skinned tyrant” amid X advertiser fallout

Hate speech group calls Musk “thin-skinned tyrant” amid X advertiser fallout

Advertisers with zero-tolerance policies for antisemitism spent the weekend urging the CEO of X (formerly Twitter), Linda Yaccarino, to follow their lead, save her reputation, and ditch Elon Musk’s toxic social media platform, according to a pair of reports.

Advertising industry insiders told the Financial Times and Forbes that Yaccarino got bombarded all weekend by industry friends advising her to resign, or else face a “credibility crisis” as major brands—including Apple, Disney, IBM, Lionsgate, Paramount Global, Sony, and Warner Bros.—have stopped advertising on X.

This latest X advertiser scare followed two Media Matters reports of ads appearing next to antisemitic content. But the backlash goes beyond stemming just from those reports and is also connected to an antisemitic X post from Musk. In the post, Musk explicitly endorses as “the actual truth” the great replacement theory. That theory, as The New York Times explained, claims that “Jews have organized nonwhite immigrants to replace the white race” and “was embraced by Robert Bowers, who killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.”

Musk’s post was deemed so harmful that it was condemned by the White House.

According to Forbes, amid the advertiser exodus, a “groundswell of leading advertising executives” immediately started questioning why Yaccarino “is risking her reputation to shield Musk’s behavior.” Lou Paskalis, a chief executive of the marketing consultancy AJL Advisory, told the FT that he “did advise Linda via text to go and [said] that staying would only damage her reputation.”

But days into the controversy—as Musk threatens to lob a “thermonuclear lawsuit” at Media Matters for their reporting and denounces media reports that he claims falsely interpret his X post as antisemitic—Yaccarino has shown no signs that she will be leaving X. Sources told the FT that she’s staying because she “believes in X’s mission and its employees.”

This is perhaps good news for X users, who have arguably never needed Yaccarino more, according to X safety partners who told Ars that Yaccarino has been more involved with platform safety and more directly accessible than past Twitter CEOs.

Before joining X, Yaccarino was head of advertising at NBCUniversal, where she helped launch a partnership with the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, including a “national campaign to mobilize all Americans to combat antisemitism by spreading the hashtag #StandUpToJewishHate.” According to a spokesperson for the American Jewish Committee (AJC)—which currently partners with X on platform safety by flagging harmful content and advising on policies—Yaccarino brought that same energy to X.

AJC’s spokesperson told Ars that after years of partnering with Twitter, Yaccarino became the first senior leader to actually meet with AJC in August. That meeting followed the suspension of a pro-Nazi X account after the last time a Media Matters report spooked advertisers. The meeting was presented as a high-profile event that was broadcast on X, but beyond potentially appearing as a publicity stunt, it provided AJC with a rare opportunity to discuss with Yaccarino face to face all the ways that X could improve its “detection and contextual understanding of harmful content.”

And there have been other meetings since, AJC’s spokesperson said. According to AJC, the advocacy group is in touch with Jewish communities all over the world and can actually share their experiences with X leadership, even pulling members of those communities into meetings with Yaccarino.

An important example of Yaccarino’s involvement in platform safety came after Hamas’ surprise attack out of Gaza on October 7. X immediately reached out to AJC and set up a meeting where Yaccarino brought in “high-level people” to speak with AJC about what was needed to protect Jewish communities.

That’s why AJC’s spokesperson said that under Yaccarino, there has been “a shift in the attention” given to antisemitism on X and a new “level of senior leadership engagement” that AJC had not previously seen.

Privately, reports said that Yaccarino has told her advertising colleagues that she will not resign as X CEO. Publicly, Yaccarino has not acknowledged Musk’s problematic post, instead sharing her own statement on X denouncing “discrimination by everyone” on November 16:

X’s point of view has always been very clear that discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board—I think that’s something we can and should all agree on. When it comes to this platform—X has also been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination. There’s no place for it anywhere in the world—it’s ugly and wrong. Full stop.

While AJC still needs to “see improvement” at X, AJC’s spokesperson said that the group has no plans to abandon X despite frequently disagreeing with posts from the platform’s owner.

So although AJC used X to publicly condemn Musk’s post as antisemitic and “incredibly dangerous,” AJC remains committed to working with Yaccarino to help prevent online hate spreading on X from triggering real-world violence. AJC views this as crucial work during a wave of currently surging global antisemitism that AJC considers a “human rights emergency.”

“We do see the content spreading online, then having these offline repercussions,” AJC’s spokesperson told Ars. According to AJC, evidence suggests that the great replacement theory spreading online led to the Tree of Life shootings, which was the biggest antisemitic attack in US history. Tragedies reaching that magnitude are “obviously what we’re trying to prevent in our engagement with companies” like X.

“It’s so important to just still be doing this,” AJC’s spokesperson said.

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