Elon Musk: Defending Freedom of Speech with Bold Remarks to Advertisers

Facepalm: Elon Musk has retracted a statement he made last year, in which he told advertisers threatening to withdraw their ads from X to “go f**k yourself.” The platform owner now clarifies that the statement was meant to emphasize free speech, which seems just a step away from claiming, “I was only joking, lol.”

The incident originated in November 2023 when IBM suspended its advertising on the former Twitter platform X. This followed a report from a media watchdog—whom Musk is suing—revealing that one of IBM’s ads appeared alongside posts promoting Hitler and the Nazi party. At the time, Musk was already under fire for positively responding to a message suggesting that Jewish communities incite hatred against whites. Musk has since apologized for his post, deeming it “perhaps one of the most foolish, if not the most foolish, thing I’ve ever done on the platform.”

Apple, Walt Disney, Comcast, Warner Bros, and other major companies also suspended advertising on the platform. Musk, who previously called a cave diver involved in the Thai soccer team rescue a “pedo guy” for criticizing his rescue plan, reacted to departing advertisers by telling them to “Go f**k yourself” during an interview at The New York Times Dealbook Summit. When asked if he wanted the advertisers to return, he responded, “I don’t want them to advertise. If somebody is going to try to blackmail with advertising, blackmail me with money, go f**k yourself.”

In an interview with WPP CEO Mark Read at the Cannes Lions advertising festival in France, Musk was asked about the meaning behind his explicit message to advertisers.

“It wasn’t to advertisers as a whole,” Musk explained. “It was with respect to freedom of speech. I think it is important to have a global free speech platform, where people from a wider range of opinions can voice their views.”

This assertion appears even more dubious considering Musk specifically called out Disney CEO Bob Iger at the time of his explicit remark. “Hey Bob, if you’re in the audience, that’s how I feel,” Musk said. The Disney+ app was subsequently removed from some Tesla vehicles without any explanation from the company. The EV giant later informed Disney that the app would only be removed for owners who had never used it before.

“In some cases, there were advertisers who were insisting on censorship,” Musk noted. “At the end of the day […] if we have to make a choice between censorship and losing money, [or] censorship and money, or free speech and losing money, we’re going to choose the second.”

“We’re going to support free speech rather than agree to be censored for money, which I think is the right moral decision,” he added.

Referring to the circumstances that led to the current situation, Musk acknowledged that advertisers have the right to choose content that aligns with their brand. However, he maintained it was “not cool” to demand that platforms host no content they disagree with.

According to Statista, X/Twitter generated $4.73 billion in advertising revenue in 2022, the year Musk took over. This figure dropped to $3.31 billion in 2023 and is projected to decrease to $3.14 billion this year. At the current rate, it could plummet to $2.7 billion by 2027, which partly explains Musk’s efforts to lure advertisers back to the platform.

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