Statements
2022

Civil-Society Groups Call on Twitter’s Top-20 Advertisers to Demand that Elon Musk Fulfill His Promise to Safeguard Their Brands and Protect Users

For Immediate Release
November 1, 2022
Contact: press@accountabletech.org

 

Advertisers are urged to suspend ads globally if Musk can’t publicly commit to enforcing the brand- and community-safety rules already on Twitter’s books.

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, more than 40 civil-society groups called on Twitter’s top-20 advertisers to inform Elon Musk that they will suspend all advertising on the platform if he follows through on plans to undermine the social network’s community standards and content moderation. The move follows breaking news that Musk has already frozen many employees’ ability to access content-moderation and standards-enforcement tools that they previously used to protect users from the spread of election disinformation and other toxic content.

The letter was sent to CEOs and top executives at Twitter’s top-20 advertisers: Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, Capital One Financial Corporation, CBS, CenturyLink, Coca-Cola Company, Comcast Corporation, Best Buy Co., Disney, Google, Home Box Office, IBM, Merck & Co., Meta Platforms, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Verizon

The letter documents the many changes Musk has already made to the company, including firing Twitter’s top executive in charge of legal policy, trust, and safety. The letter highlights Musk’s threat to drastically reduce employee headcount, including those responsible for maintaining community standards and protecting user safety. It also cites the sharp increase in hateful posts and misinformation on Twitter since Musk took over — including a homophobic tweet shared (and then deleted) by Musk.

The full text of the letter, which was organized by Free Press, Accountable Tech and Media Matters for America, appears below and is also available online here.  Additional signers include: Access Now, AI for the People Inc., Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Azerbaijan Internet Watch, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, the Center for American Progress, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the Change the Terms Coalition, Color Of Change, Common Cause, the Dangerous Speech Project, Digital Africa Research Lab, Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR), Doctors In Politics, Equality Labs, Fair Vote UK, the Friends of the Earth, GLAAD, the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, Jewish Women International, Majal.org, MediaJustice, Muslim Advocates, NAACP, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Numun Fund, PFLAG National, ProgressNow NM, Public Citizen, Public Knowledge, Ranking Digital Rights, the Real Facebook Oversight Board, Right To Be (formerly Hollaback!), the Sparrow Project, SumOfUs, The Tech Oversight Project, the Union of Concerned Scientists, UltraViolet, the United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry, United We Dream and #VOTEPROCHOICE.

“It is only a matter of time before Elon Musk officially rolls back Twitter’s brand-safety standards and community guidelines, turning the platform into what he has always been clear he wants it to be: a supercharged engine of radicalization,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America. “Musk has already put Twitter on that glide path, firing employees responsible for content moderation and brand protection and even tweeting out political conspiracy theories himself. Luckily, major brands that advertise on Twitter, and provide over 90 percent of its revenue each year, can speak up and make it clear: Their buys are contingent on the maintenance of the key brand-safety guidelines and community standards — and they will accept nothing less.”

New research from Free Press shows that Twitter is already a hellscape, and Musk’s actions since he took over are making it worse,” said Jessica J. González, co-CEO of Free Press. “Racists and conspiracy theorists are testing how far they can go with spreading lies, harassment and abuse — and misinformation about the midterm election is rampant. This is not the healthy forum that the vast majority of Twitter users want, and it exposes Twitter’s advertising partners to great risk. We’re calling on Twitter to, at a minimum, retain and actually enforce existing community safeguards and content-moderation systems. Without these actions, advertisers will head for the exits, not wanting to see their brands featured adjacent to the most toxic hate and disinformation. Before Twitter gets any worse, advertisers need to say ‘hell no’ to Musk’s plans to turn the platform into a free-for-all.”

“Elon Musk is an erratic billionaire who has promised to roll back critical safeguards Twitter has put in place and replatform extremists who have repeatedly spewed hate, incited violence, and undermined our democracy,” said Nicole Gill, co-founder and executive director of Accountable Tech. “He’s already doing it, blocking his trust and safety team from accessing basic moderation tools a week before the midterms. He’s even used his own account to spread vile disinformation about an attempted assassination of the House Speaker, and to echo Kremlin and CCP propaganda — hostile regimes with whom he has deep business ties. Advertisers have both the power and the responsibility to hold him to account and they must — not only for their own brand safety, but for the integrity of our now crumbling information ecosystem.”

“Elon Musk has consistently failed to comprehend that freedom of speech does not mean freedom to abuse and that online spaces should be safe for women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. ”Twitter must make a clear commitment to retaining existing standards, and Musk should provide a credible plan for applying his undeniable engineering prowess to reducing the prevalence of bots, increasing the detection and pre-publication removal of violative content, and enforcing the rules that prevent his platform from becoming a ‘hellscape’ with what appears to be significantly reduced staff and resources.”

“Elon Musk is poised to add fuel to the fire of widespread harassment and threats of violence, especially against Black women, women of color, and transgender people. We believe Musk will abandon Twitter’s community standards, which took years to establish, and currently provide recourse to ban users who violate those terms,”explained Bridget Todd, communications director at UltraViolet. “Twitter’s major advertisers — brands like Disney, HBO, and Kraft— may be the only thing standing in the way of disaster. It’s time for them to step up, make their red lines clear — and help us safeguard Twitter as a safe space for free speech – not a free for all of hate and harassment.”

In the coming weeks, the coalition of groups will follow up with representatives of each of the 20 top advertisers to monitor and report on the status of company outreach to Musk.

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