Will advertisers flee a “free expression” Twitter? – Tech Crunch

Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, has underscored his belief that “freedom of speech” is essential to Twitter’s future, even noting in the press release announcing the deal today that “freedom of expression is the foundation of a functioning democracy”. But there’s a significant complication with running an unmoderated (or only slightly moderated) advertiser-backed social platform: and it’s the advertisers themselves. They could leave!

If Twitter were to backtrack on content moderation, it could allow more bullying, violent speech, hate speech, misinformation, and other abusive content to gain traction. This may make Twitter less palatable to newcomers who were already apprehensive about posting in a “public square” – an area that impacts Twitter’s ongoing concerns about steady user growth. But it could also deter advertisers from investing their budget in the platform.

Over the years, Twitter has worked tirelessly to make the site a less abusive place, with varying degrees of success.

The company has expanded its rules on hate speech to include more nuance about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed on the app. In 2020, for example, it added detail to its ban on dehumanizing speech to include other areas like age, disability and even illness. The latter was a timely addition because some Twitter users had started to make hateful or even racist comments related to the spread of Covid-19. Last year, it announced it was looking to further improve its content moderation systems by analyzing user-submitted reports to see where its existing rules might fall short in protecting users. He has bragged in biannual reports when his policies have helped reduce the amount of hate speech on his platform.

According to his last Twitter took action on 4.8 million unique accounts from January to June 2021, which includes targeting bots, spam, and other malicious actors, in addition to policy violations.

With Musk in charge, one wonders where this kind of effort can end up. Rather, the pendulum will now swing the other way – away from strict moderation. And that could be bad for business.

Advertisers are quite allergic to their brand name appearing alongside hate speech and abusive or dangerous content on social platforms. They’ve proven it over and over again with boycotts for that very reason.

In 2017, for example, brands and publishers in Europe said they would withdraw their YouTube ad dollars from Google after their ads were revealed to be displayed alongside videos promoting terrorism and anti-Semitism. . Google moved quickly to give advertisers more control over their programmatic buying. And when YouTube’s top creators were thinking outside the box at other times, Google sided with advertisers’ concerns about it. The video platform would immediately demonetize and remove ads from any creator facing backlash for violating its guidelines on what is considered “advertiser-friendly” content.

In recent years, larger advertisers have begun to throw their full weight in an effort to meet Facebook’s content moderation policies. Major brands like Verizon, Boeing, Microsoft, Reebok, Patagonia, Hershey’s, Eddie Bauer, Adidas, Levi Strauss, Pfizer, HP, Best Buy, Denny’s, Unilever and others have joined in an advertising boycott of the social network and… ‘Instagram in an effort to push Facebook (now called Meta) to strengthen its hate speech enforcement.

Yes, increase. Not decrease.

Here’s Univer’s statement from that time, to give you an idea: “Based on the current polarization and the elections we have in the United States, there needs to be a lot more enforcement in the area of ​​hate speech.”

The company was also boycotting Twitter at the time.

In total, more than 1,110 companies, including large companies and small companies, had joined this particular boycott. Other companies, including Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Clorox and Ford, also temporarily suspended their social media ads, but did not join the large-scale boycott.

Now imagine how those same brands would react if free “free speech” for all really took place on Twitter. The network, already, is not a top priority given its relatively smaller size compared to others like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. What if he welcomed divisive and dangerous speeches? It may be time to leave.

It’s not a minor concern for Twitter to weigh in as it moves forward. The company has experimented with a number of new monetizable products – including Twitter Spaces and subscriptions – but its business is now almost entirely ad-supported. During its fourth quarter results, Twitter reported revenue of $1.57 billion, a shortfall from expectations of $1.58 billion, as advertising spending slowed slightly over the course of the year. of the quarter. According to eMarketer, advertising accounted for 89% of Twitter’s revenue in 2021 and it predicted it would surpass 91% by 2023. Ads are how Twitter even exists.

Twitter has bigger ambitions for developer-led innovations that could lead to alternative business models in the distant future, but it’s unclear which projects will survive Twitter’s new priorities.

In other words, advertisers may have a lot of power as Twitter progresses under Musk. If the company does in fact change or revamp its moderation policies, reinstate banned users (but not Trump, apparently), or allow the return of hate speech and other dangerous and abusive content, advertisers can go.

And while Musk could very well be a billionaire, he’s unlikely to want to self-fund Twitter to keep it afloat.

Twitter is due to release its first quarter results on Thursday. But he will not hold a conference call, he said.

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