WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, more than 60 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, Center On Race and Digital Justice, the Change the Terms Coalition, Color Of Change, Common Cause, the Dangerous Speech Project, DemCast USA, 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, 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 TransLatin@ Coalition, the Union of Concerned Scientists, UltraViolet, the United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry, United We Dream, #VOTEPROCHOICE, and Whose Knowledge?
“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,” said Bridget Todd, communications director of 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.
NOV. 1 LETTER TO CEOs:
Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter came with his promise to advertisers like you that the social network would not transform into a “free-for-all hellscape” and would remain “warm and welcoming to all.”
But beware: Musk’s promises in no way accurately portray his plans for Twitter, nor are they a reflection of the evolving reality of the platform as it transforms by the minute under Musk. If Elon Musk follows through with just a fraction of what he has already committed to doing, then Twitter will not and can not be a safe platform for brands. Urgent action is needed by advertisers.
Among Musk’s first acts as owner was to spread a dangerous conspiracy theory about a violent attack on the husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. He also fired several top executives, including Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal policy, trust, and safety.
Within 24 hours of Musk taking ownership, the platform was inundated with hate and disinformation. Not only are extremists celebrating Musk's takeover of Twitter, they are seeing it as a new opportunity to post the most abusive, harassing, and racist language and imagery. This includes clear threats of violence against people with whom they disagree. Without deliberate efforts by Twitter to address this type of abuse and hate, your brands will be actively supporting accelerating extremism.
Additionally, he has threatened to drastically reduce employee headcount, putting those responsible for maintaining community standards and protecting user safety first on the chopping block. Musk has also publicly supported the idea of restoring the accounts of prominent individuals Twitter had suspended for inciting and glorifying political violence, spreading election- and COVID-related disinformation and abusing people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, or disability.
Your companies are Twitter's 20 largest US advertisers, spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Your posture and response to Musk’s plans during this moment matter for your brands.
We, the undersigned organizations, call on you to notify Musk and publicly commit that you will cease all advertising on Twitter globally if he follows through on his plans to undermine brand safety and community standards, including gutting content moderation. This means that Musk must not roll back the basic moderation practices Twitter already has on the books now and must commit to actually enforcing those rules.
We know that brand safety is of the utmost importance to you. As such, you also have a moral and civic obligation to take a stand against the degradation of one of the world’s most influential communications platforms, and to hold Musk to the pledge he made to you to ensure that Twitter is a welcoming and civil place for everyone.