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WASHINGTON — During a Twitter town hall on Wednesday, Elon Musk attempted to woo back the many advertisers who have paused their spending on the social network.

Since Musk took over Twitter less than two weeks ago, more than two-dozen advertisers have pulled their ads due to concerns over whether Twitter is committed to protecting brand safety and upholding community standards. Musk’s recent and erratic behavior on the platform includes retweeting conspiracy theories, amplifying the tweets of Hitler devotees and telling his followers how to vote in the U.S. midterm elections. This behavior has given companies little confidence in his leadership.  

Last Friday, the #StopToxicTwitter coalition, made up of more than 60 civil-rights and civil-society groups, issued an urgent call demanding that all Twitter advertisers pause global ad buys on the platform, full stop. The coalition action came in the wake of Elon Musk’s sweeping layoffs that day; half of Twitter’s employees received news that they’d been fired — making it impossible for the company to uphold critical brand safeguards and content-moderation standards.  

Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights at Free Press, said:

“Less than 24 hours after polls have closed, Elon Musk took to Twitter Spaces in hopes of winning back advertisers, and, by extension, revenue — instead of actually tackling the hate and conspiracies thriving on his privately owned platform. Musk just spent an hour trying to reassure nervous advertisers by outlining his plans to make Twitter even better and on the side of ‘truth.’ In his view, a new focus on monetization through a verification and subscription model is the solution to Twitter's systemic failures on content moderation. That’s just plain wrong.

“Musk pays lip service to principles of innovation, free speech and inclusiveness. Unfortunately, he has a long track record of silencing and targeting speech he dislikes. So, while he’s trying to placate advertisers, his actions are jeopardizing brand and user safety on the platform.

“Musk claims the company’s moderation policies haven’t changed. But last week he gutted the teams responsible for monitoring content and enforcing these standards. Moderation may look the same on paper but hate on the platform has reportedly risen dramatically since Musk took over and he hasn’t put any mechanisms in place to clamp down on this content in a consistent, accurate and timely way. In fact, he’s often amplifying dangerous speech, as when he retweeted a conspiracy theory about the vicious attack on Paul Pelosi.

“Musk is painting the new $8-a-month verification fee as the panacea to all that ails Twitter. He argues that it will create barriers for bots and bad actors pushing hate and disinformation. But what about Elon’s own posting of conspiracy theories? Isn’t that bad for brand safety, too? 

“Musk’s head of safety insists there’s been a 95-percent reduction in hate since the takeover. So far, we've only seen credible outside research that shows hate speech has spiked since Musk took over. If I were an advertiser, I would be no more encouraged about Twitter safety than I was at the beginning of Musk’s town hall. These sorts of speeches to advertisers are cheap and meaningless in the absence of real action.”

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