Elon Musk’s X faces advertiser backlash after placing marketing for major brands on notorious white supremacist account

Elon Musk’s X faces advertiser backlash after placing marketing for major brands on notorious white supremacist account
  • PublishedOctober 6, 2023

The Elon-Musk owned social media platform, X, confidently claims that it harnesses industry-leading brand safety tools to ensure a positive experience for advertisers on the platform — but a quick glance at where advertisements for prominent brands actually appear tells an entirely different story.

Over the last 24 hours, a Reliable Sources review found advertisements for a cohort of major companies and organizations have appeared directly on the verified profile account of VDARE, an openly racist, white supremacist outlet that publishes some of the most vile content on the internet.

Those companies and organizations include Amazon, Samsung, the Denver Broncos, Cox Communications, STARZ, The Wall Street Journal, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, the University of Missouri, New York Waterway, Axios, Puck, Ad Age, Morning Brew, and the Asian Development Bank.

The fact that X permits a publication like VDARE to operate a verified account on the platform — giving it access to monetization and boosting its visibility to users — is in itself seriously concerning (Facebook and YouTube, for instance, have banned the outlet from their platforms). But that it apparently also believes it is appropriate to monetize the outlet’s vicious hate speech says volumes not only about the company’s ethics, but its supposed commitment to brand safety.

X must be well aware that it is pairing advertisements with racist content, given that the NFL made noise about this very problem last week. The league expressed concern its ads were being displayed on accounts featuring racist material, including VDARE’s, following a report from the progressive watchdog Media Matters, which brought the issue to attention.

And yet, X has taken little if any discernible action to remedy the problem. Instead, it has continued to place advertisements for some of the world’s most recognizable companies directly on the account of one of the most notorious white supremacist outlets on the web.

All the while, Linda Yaccarino, the former NBCUniversal advertising boss turned X executive, has claimed publicly and privately that X has taken incredible measures to ensure advertisers don’t find their brands adjacent to hate speech on the website. But those claims don’t seem to hold much water, given the ugly reality of what is transpiring on X.

In a Thursday night statement, X effectively acknowledged it has more work to do to make the platform safe for brands.

“X cares about the health and safety of the platform for all its users, advertisers and publishers, and we’re accelerating products so our content partners can be removed from some in-app placements like profile and search,” a company spokesperson told CNN.

The statement from X — rare these days — was likely a sign of how things are going behind the scenes. Some of the brands whose advertisements appeared on VDARE’s account expressed strong displeasure on Thursday when they became aware of the situation.

“Racist hate speech is completely antithetical to everything the STARZ brand stands for and we have suspended all advertising on X immediately and indefinitely,” a STARZ spokesperson told me Thursday evening.

A spokesperson for the New York Waterway told me that it found the news “disturbing” and that the company had “no knowledge” of the matter and would “definitely be contacting” X about it. The representative added that New York Waterway “wants nothing to do with hate speech, and we do not want our ads near any organization or entity that promotes it.”

Jon Kelly, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Puck, said that it was “obviously appalling and completely antithetical” to the company’s values to advertise on VDARE’s profile. Kelly said the outlet has since “enacted various measures to hopefully ensure this was the first and last time that this happens.”

The University of Missouri said it does not “condone organizations that promote intolerance.” Cox Communications said it was investigating the matter. And a spokesperson for the NFL pointed to its previous statement expressing concern that its advertisements were appearing on the accounts belonging to racists.

Spokespeople for The Wall Street Journal, Axios, Morning Brew, Ad Age, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, and the Asian Development Bank either declined or did not respond to requests for comment.

That said, it is, frankly, astonishing that big companies continue to believe that the current iteration of X is a friendly corner of the web to advertise their carefully manicured brands on, when they should know full well by now that it is a chaotic platform, rife with content moderation problems.

As Lou Paskalis, a seasoned advertising executive, said on Thursday, “Having ads run against racist and antisemitic content is the proverbial third rail for major advertisers who have enterprise-wide initiates to support diversity, to support inclusion, that are not only important to their brands but their employees and shareholders.”

“A single incident of this, screen shot and circulated, undoes years of hard work,” Paskalis added. “And no amount of advertising benefit would ever displace the potential risk of one incident where your ad shows up next to unsavory content.”


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