National Public Radio yesterday posted an article titled “Twitter has lost 50 of its top 100 advertisers since Elon Musk took over, report says.” The article relies on a report from the liberal site Media Matters for America founded by Democratic operative David Brock. The report lists companies that have publicly pulled their advertising and the article strongly suggests that it is due to the pledge of Elon Musk to restore free speech protections on the social media site. These companies are well within their free speech rights to boycott the company or suspend their support in light of possible changes on content. However, customers also have the right not to support companies that do not support their free speech rights.
The NPR article contains this graph:
“Chevrolet, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Ford, Jeep, Kyndryl, Merck & Co. and Novartis AG all issued statements about halting Twitter ads or were reported and confirmed as doing so. The others ceased advertising on the platform for a “significant period of time following direct outreach, controversies, and warnings from media buyers.”
A quick review of these companies shows that many use the same vague rationale of Chipolte that they want to wait to “gain a better understanding on the direction of the platform under its new leadership.” These companies have not expressly called for censorship. They simply say that they will not advertise with the company until that they are satisfied with the company’s new “direction.”
The assumption is that the companies were fine with the “direction” of the old Twitter in limiting free speech. In the very least, it did not seem to be a sufficient concern to prompt them to make public statements suspending advertising in prior years.
The companies have remained silent on why the prior “direction” did not appear to be a corporate concern. They did not apparently view the prior Twitter policies as barriers to advertising.
Specifically, these companies appeared to have no objections to the company maintaining one of the world’s largest and most notorious censorship systems. The blocking of the Hunter Biden laptop story did not appear to be a barrier for advertisers. The blocking of individuals offering opposing views on Covid, climate change, transgender policies or other issues was not an apparent barrier. Yet, the announced intention to restore free speech protections has warranted these suspensions.
There is also a concern that these suspensions have followed a campaign from many on the left to pressure advertisers to pull advertising funds. The public statements have been celebrated by those seeking to coerce Musk into restoring censorship on the platform. The campaign is also ramping up as Musk threatens to reveal back channel communications related to the censorship of political and social commentary. The disclosures could prove embarrassing for many in the political and media establishment.
There is even a campaign on the left to ban Twitter from the Apple and Google stores to pressure Musk to relent on censorship. This could create a massive war between the establishment and these companies against Musk and many citizens over free speech. Musk is reportedly preparing for such a ban.
Companies like Disney have faced backlash over taking political positions in states like Florida. However, for the most part, companies assume that consumers will be driven by their products rather than their policies in making purchase choices. They may be right, but these companies are viewed by many as supporting an anti-free speech campaign. That could be a question for some consumers. For shareholders, these decisions raise questions of whether corporate executives are serving their interests in joining an effective boycott against Twitter.
The reason for their withdrawal of advertising remains intentionally vague but the timing and message seems quite clear. The move to pull advertising can lead many customers to question the “direction of the leadership” of these companies on free speech. If these companies do not want the restoration of the prior Twitter censorship policies, they should state so. They should also state what they are demanding from Musk if it is not the censorship or the banning of individuals.
These companies may insist that they do not want to have advertising associated with unpopular or offensive posters, particularly given the “general amnesty” for previously banned accounts. While it did not seem to be a problem to be associated with one of the world’s largest censorship companies, it is clearly their right to associate or disassociate with any company. It is also the right of consumers to choose to disassociate with companies due to their position on free speech.