A long list of major brands stopped marketing on X after a report found ads next to pro-Nazi posts.
At least two brands dropped Meta after a recent report found ads next to suggestive photos of kids.
Elon Musk's attitude appears to be behind the reason advertisers are leaving X and staying on Meta.
Advertisers across social media are taking markedly different approaches to hosting their content on Meta's Facebook and Instagram compared to Elon Musk's X as the tech giants face heavy criticism for questionable content found on each platform — and it appears Musk's attitude is the reason.
In the last several weeks, The Wall Street Journal has published two massive reports outlining Meta's problem preventing pedophiles from being promoted on Instagram and Facebook, despite the company ramping up enforcement efforts, as well as detailing how brand-sponsored advertisements end up appearing next to "risqué footage of kids" and "overtly sexual adult videos" on Meta's platforms.
Despite The Journal's bombshell findings — which described brands like Disney and Pizza Hut having advertisements displayed next to content with simulated sex acts and suggestive posts involving children — only two brands (the dating sites Bumble and Match) have so far been reported by the outlet to have distanced themselves from Meta's platforms.
That's in comparison to a mass exodus of advertisers leaving X following a report that ads were being displayed next to pro-Nazi posts and owner Musk doubling down on comments criticized as being antisemitic.
Representatives for Meta, X, and Match did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Business Insider.
A representative for Bumble directed Business Insider to a public statement released by the company which said Bumble "would never intentionally advertise adjacent to inappropriate content" and has suspended its ad campaigns across all Meta platforms.
The representative did not respond to questions about whether Bumble would resume ads with Meta if it were deemed safe for the brand in the future or if Bumble advertises on X.
Musk's continued battle with advertisers
Musk is no stranger to criticism but has recently found himself in the crossfire again after responding to a post on X that said Jewish people are pushing "hatred against whites" and criticized the political ideology of "western Jewish populations."
"You have said the actual truth," Musk replied to the post.
His response has been widely criticized as being antisemitic, as the original post hinted at the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, often invoked against liberal Jews, which suggests non-white immigrants to the US are replacing white populations.
Musk later apologized, calling the comments "foolish."
The day after Musk's heavily panned post, the watchdog group Media Matters for America published a report that found ads on X were being displayed alongside pro-Nazi posts, prompting brands including IBM, Apple, Lionsgate, and Warner Bros. Discovery to suspend their marketing campaigns on the platform.
Though advertisers may be equally concerned about how their campaigns are viewed across social media platforms, their responses to handling those concerns have been remarkably disparate when comparing Meta's services with X — likely because of the striking difference in tone that leadership of each social media company has taken when addressing issues of brand safety on their platforms, two advertising experts told Business Insider.
"In the highly-polarized environment that exists in the US today, advertisers are reluctant to associate themselves with anyone whose views might alienate their customers or employees," Fred Cook, the chairman emeritus of the global PR agency Golin, told Business Insider. "Elon Musk definitely falls into that category. His personal brand is too controversial for many marketers — which undermines the appeal of their platform."
Brands that advertise on X already had a contentious relationship with the platform since Musk's $44 billion acquisition in October 2022, citing concerns over his overhaul of the content moderation policies on the website. But Musk's behavior has made those already tumultuous relationships even worse.
Instead of taking a hard-line stance against antisemitic content being posted on X, Musk instead filed suit against Media Matters for saying advertisements had appeared next to pro-Nazi content on the site.
"He does not take counsel from anyone on image or reputation or what he should say or what he should not say and I think, left to his own devices, he's sort of a bull in the china shop," Cook told Business Insider. "He's just unfiltered, and I think it shows. I don't think there's any other CEO or business leader whose communications staff would allow them to be so unhinged."
A 'question of attitude'
Lars Perner, a marketing and consumer behavior expert, told Business Insider that the difference in how brands respond to Musk's X versus other platforms "is mostly a question of attitude."
While a Meta spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal its platforms are ramping up enforcement efforts to combat exploitative content from being hosted on Facebook and Instagram — likely calming the nerves of concerned marketers, who are well aware of the risks of hosting ads on social media — Musk has doubled down on some of the initial behaviors that prompted criticism in the first place.
X's new brand-friendly CEO Linda Yaccarino has tried to ease tensions with advertisers, claiming that the company is "extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination." Still, her reassurances have been consistently undermined by Musk's off-the-cuff comments.
In a late November interview during the New York Times' DealBook Summit, Musk repeatedly said critical advertisers can go "fuck" themselves, saying emphatically: "If someone is going to blackmail me with money, go fuck yourself."
On Thursday, Musk specifically took aim at Disney CEO Bob Iger in a series of posts on X, saying he should be "fired immediately" from his role at the company, adding that Iger "thinks it's cool to advertise next to child exploitation material. Real stand up guy."
"At least Meta can say they're working on it and doing the best they can," Perner told Business Insider, adding "it's a little more difficult with X" because of Musk's cuts to the platform's content moderation teams and his controversial remarks.
Musk's net worth makes him the wealthiest man in the world, so he can undoubtedly afford to ostracize people. But it remains unclear how lasting the recent damage will be on brands' relationships with his social media platform or if X — which Yaccarino said in September was set to begin turning a profit early next year — is still on track to break even as it once again hemorrhages its top advertisers.
X claims that roughly $11 million in advertising dollars are at risk following the mass exodus of major brands, while a report from The New York Times put the platform's potential losses closer to $75 million.
But even if Musk manages to keep X's financial situation afloat, Cook said the billionaire's antagonistic stance toward advertisers, as well as the divisive nature of the comments he's been making publicly, will likely start driving customers away from his other brands.
"I think Tesla's getting damaged from this also, not from advertisers per se, but from their image," Cook said. "I think there's a lot of people out there that would be very reluctant to buy a Tesla now — because of Elon Musk."
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