When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he prompted a mass exodus of advertisers worried his reign might elevate hate speech and other stomach-churning content that would then appear alongside their ads. Musk had said he would restore a vast swath of accounts banned for violating Twitter policies, and he did, resurrecting nearly 12,000 accounts, including violent neo-Nazis.
Well, the advertising industry’s worst fears have come true. Twitter has placed promotions for major advertisers including Amazon, Snap, Uber, and the US Department of Health and Human Services on the profiles of prominent white nationalists, according to a report in the Washington Post. The Post documented ads running on the pages for Andrew Anglin, owner of the The Daily Stormer, and Patrick Casey, former leader of Identity Evropa. Both are young leaders in the hate movement who were welcomed back onto the platform in Musk’s “general amnesty” for banned accounts.
Twitter monetizes its users’ tweets by running ads next to them. The more high profile the user, the more people see their tweets, and the more dollars the company rakes in. Unfortunately, well-known white nationalists attract a lot of eyeballs. It seems Twitter’s advertising system took advantage of its reborn cadre of hatemongers to run promoted Tweets and pocket the ad revenue.
Twitter’s advertising business was already in crisis because of reputational fallout from Musk and from mass layoffs, and civil rights groups had already called for an ad boycott. Big advertisers had just started dipping their toes back into Twitter murky waters; Amazon reportedly restarted ads on the platform a mere two days ago. The company did not say whether it would rescind that spending.
Musk has taken to Twitter in desperate attempts to soothe advertiser’s concerns, promising that hate speech issues on Twitter are getting better (not true) and that brand safety won’t be a problem (also, apparently, incorrect). But we likely won’t know for sure because Twitter reportedly doesn’t have a communications department after Musk’s mass layoffs. In related news, it did not respond to a request for comment.
Those mass layoffs hit whole teams dedicated to content moderation, a bogeyman to Musk’s self proclaimed free speech absolutism. Those teams were charged with making sure that brands’ precious ads don’t run alongside objectionable posts like those of neo-Nazis, among other important responsibilities.
The Post said it spoke to a Twitter employee under the condition of anonymity, who explained that toxic accounts are supposed to get flagged as ineligible for advertising. It seems that hasn’t been happening, probably because Musk fired the employees tasked with it.
The white nationalists in question were too noxious for even for Elon’s often permissive predecessor Jack Dorsey. Andrew Anglin is the founder of the gutter trash neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. Anglin recently tweeted the absurd claim that he isn’t a Nazi, though he named his Nazi company after Nazi propaganda. Anglin also used his fresh new Twitter page to endorse Ye (aka Kanye West) for president last week after the disgraced musician tweeted a swastika (and screenshots of texts from Musk), prompting Ye’s very own Twitter suspension. Patrick Casey is the founder of the racist little boys club Identity Evropa, tied to some of the most violent hate rallies of the era of Donald Trump, including the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. He told the Washington Post “I have never described myself as a white nationalist.” Sure.
Casey did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Anglin could not be reached. However, Gizmodo got in touch with one of advertisers whose paid promotions ran on the white nationalist accounts.
“HHS did not determine where this ad would appear,” said Sarah Lovenheim assistant secretary for public affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Services. “Having it appear on hateful Twitter channels is inconsistent with our values and we are pulling it down.”
Other advertisers did not immediately respond to requests for comment, including Amazon, Morning Brew, Snap, Uber and USA Today’s parent company, Gannett. We also contacted NBC and Comcast, whose platform Voices of the Civil Rights, which honors the legacy and impact of civil rights champions, was ironically promoted on the white nationalist pages. We’ll update this story if we hear back from any of these organizations.
Elon is getting what he paid for. Data shows that the reportedly sleep-deprived CEO has restored as 12,000 banned accounts since Oct. 27, reinstating several hundred a day over the last month and a full 2,500 on Nov. 21 alone. The list includes some real winners, just great people.
Late last month, Musk posted a poll, asking Twitter users whether he should offer a “general amnesty” to suspended accounts. The poll pointed to yes, and the tweeter in chief responded “Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” That means “the voice of the people is the voice of god” in Latin, which Elon definitely speaks, because he is very smart. He’s apparently not a great reader though, because the full translation of the Vox Populi quote reads, “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”
Musk could take steps to make sure his company isn’t making money on Nazis and other promoters of violence and hate. Twitter may turn off ads on Anglin and Casey’s pages. That will not solve the larger problem. There are tens of thousands of similarly pestilent accounts on Twitter, big and small, many of them recently restored by Musk himself.