Have Twitter’s policies on freedom of speech actually changed? Is Musk allowing the app to become the ‘free for all hellscape’ that he once told advertisers he would avoid?
Are Elon’s tweets all just an attention-grab, and not reflective of his actual approach?
It’s hard to tell what’s what as Musk’s Twitter 2.0 evolves, because on one hand, he’ll be telling advertisers that there’s no change to Twitter’s policies, and that they should feel safe advertising in the app. While on the other, he’s talking about how Twitter now allows free and open speech, which ‘goes against the media’s narrative’.
But the latter is, at least in part, a publicity ploy. Musk knows that some of his biggest supporters are backing his push to combat what they perceive as media bias, so he plays into that with his various tweets on the topic, while in reality, Twitter’s policies haven’t actually changed.
Or have they?
Back on November 8th, Musk tweeted out a link to Twitter’s current ‘Twitter Rules’ document, and noted that they would evolve over time. That document, at least thus far, remains unchanged, but Musk has since (on November 19th) tweeted that:
New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.
Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter.
You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022
Now, that’s not technically a change to Twitter’s rules, but Musk seems to be trying to play both sides, by allowing tweets that would be considered ‘hate speech’ to remain in the app, while also making it much harder for people to find such. In this way, Musk can maintain his appeal to advertisers, by telling them that their content won’t be displayed alongside such material, while also enabling him to keep tooting his free speech horn for his fans.
But again, technically, Twitter’s rules haven’t changed – yet that hasn’t stopped Musk from repeatedly claiming that he’s ‘fighting for free speech in America’.
Of course, Musk has also unbanned thousands of accounts that were previously banned for violations of Twitter’s rules, and he’s side-stepped his previously stated plan to implement a content moderation council to oversee such decisions, essentially taking the reigns himself on moderation concerns.
But really, Twitter’s rules, thus far, haven’t changed. So is he really making Twitter more ‘free speech’ friendly, or is this all just bluster designed to make him look cool in front of his fans and supporters?
As with everything Elon, it’s a bit of both.
Like Trump before him, Musk uses Twitter as an unfiltered stream of his every thought, good and bad, which, also like Trump, has helped him gain a massive following in the app, and is now a direct driver of media coverage and headlines, helping to further fuel his notoriety. That’s also, seemingly, driving more interest at Twitter, but in private meetings, Musk is also undoubtedly working to assure advertisers that what he’s doing via his tweets and statements is essentially a PR exercise, while in reality, the business of the platform remains the same.
That’s why he expects them to keep spending money with the app, money that he desperately needs in order to claw back his $44 billion investment.
But the reinstatement of previously banned accounts is a concern for ad partners, as are Musk’s public statements, whether they’re reflective of the platform’s actual process or not.
And this likely won’t help – today Elon’s publicly called out Apple for cutting Twitter ad spend, as he threatened to do a few weeks back.
Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter. Do they hate free speech in America?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2022
Musk had previously flagged a ‘thermonuclear name and shame’ of Twitter ad partners that had cut Twitter ad spend since his takeover at the app. Which is probably not the way to win them back, while in Apple’s case, Musk has gone even further, claiming that Apple is censoring apps and businesses through its policies. He’s even launched a Twitter poll to ask whether ‘Apple should publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers’.
Apple should publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2022
Picking a fight with the provider that facilitates reach to more than half of your audience is probably not the ideal approach – but again, it’s another means for Musk to reinforce his support, while also potentially showing other ad partners that he’s not afraid to call out even the biggest companies, and put them on blast with his many supporters.
Will that stop others from cutting Twitter ad spend? According to reports, many Twitter advertisers have already paused all campaigns, while Media Matters reports that 50 of the platform’s top 100 advertisers, which have accounted for over $2 billion in spending since 2020, have halted their initiatives in the app.
Coming into Christmas, and the biggest ad push of the year, that’s clearly going to have an impact on Twitter’s bottom line.
Will Musk’s angst be able to win them back?
It’s also a transitionary period for the app, with Musk pushing to make subscriptions account for a much bigger share of Twitter’s overall revenue pie. That would then enable him to avoid more censorship rules, because he’d no longer be beholden to brand safety concerns – but even then, both Apple and Google have strict rules around moderation in the apps provided via their stores which would impact Musk’s total free speech push.
So either way, Musk will be restricted in what, exactly, he can do on this front, no matter how loudly he wants to call out Apple and Co. for their policies.
Which, again, points to Elon’s public statements about such being more of a media stunt than an actual business strategy, with Musk now seemingly looking to paint Apple as the villain that will impede his ultimate goal of giving the people what they want.
How does that end?
Well, ultimately, with Twitter playing by Apple’s rules, or getting booted from the App Store, and losing connection with millions of users. The former is far more likely, but that won’t stop Musk from milking such conflicts for all they’re worth, and painting himself as the hero, in order to cement his popularity with his target audience.
But again, it is worth noting that what Musk says and what he does are often different. And that the very person looking to highlight the ills of the rich elite is himself the richest and elitist of them all – and he’s using that division and angst as a ploy to make even more money.