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"Elon Musk Dreaming of a Brighter Future," by jurvetson, CC BY 2.0 license.

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GM Suspends Advertising On Twitter — At Least Temporarily

Automakers are lining up in explicit disapproval of Musk’s new ownership philosophy where “free speech” reigns supreme, and they aren’t the only ones.

This week, General Motors (GM) announced it was taking a break from advertising on Twitter. The move came as Tesla CEO Elon Musk finalized his purchase of the social media platform. Most users expect editorial changes to reflect Musk’s previous pledges to reduce content moderation in what he has described as actions to promote free speech.

Tesla is the foremost competitor for GM in the electric vehicle (EV) marketplace. Although, GM has much ground to cover to achieve Tesla’s annual sales. Certainly, GM’s withdrawal is, at least in part, a shot at Musk and Tesla as a competitor in the EV space.

Then again, GM is working diligently to grab a diverse audience to purchase its line of EVs. Any negative messaging out of its control on Twitter could become a detriment to those sustainability goals.

Automakers Question Advertising on Twitter

EVs are the vehicles of the future and are on a trajectory for fast consumer adoption. Advertising on Twitter is just one channel for dissemination of the all-electric message, albeit an efficacious one.

“We are engaging with Twitter to understand the direction of the platform under their new ownership,” the GM statement read, as revealed on CNBC. “As is the normal course of business with a significant change in a media platform, we have temporarily paused our paid advertising.” Although only 1% of GM’s US sales this year have been EVs (1.8% for Chevrolet), it has ambitious EV growth plans and says it will stop selling petroleum-fueled vehicles by 2035.

GM will continue to interact with customers on Twitter.

GM isn’t the only automaker that is concerned about Twitter’s new direction. Ford is “not currently advertising on Twitter,” said spokesperson Said Deep. “We will continue to evaluate the direction of the platform under the new ownership.” Like GM, it will also keep engaging with Ford customers on the site.

Advertising on Twitter certainly creates an unusual situation for other automakers now. French automaker Citroёn acknowledged as much in a cryptic tweet on Friday. “Hello to the social media platform owned by one of our competitors,” the company said.

Fisker CEO and cofounder Henrik Fisker deleted his personal Twitter account in April after the platform agreed to Musk’s purchase offer. Henrik Fisker and Elon Musk have had several legal and professional disputes.

Advertising on Twitter — Show Me the Money

Advertising made up 92% of Twitter’s revenue in the second quarter. Twitter is dependent on advertisers for its continued profitability, and note that it is currently losing hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter. Trends seemed to be improving, though, with advertising sales for Twitter rising in the past several months, according to a New York Times analysis. Advertising on Twitter totaled $2.18 billion in the first half of this year. The top 5 advertisers this year on the platform are HBO, Mondelez, Amazon, IBM, and PepsiCo, which together spent more than $155 million through this week.

The likely imminent departure of advertisers is pressing on Musk, who posted a letter to Twitter advertisers to assuage their concerns. In an inimitable Musk stream-of-consciousness style, he refuted claims that Twitter will become a “free-for-all-hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences.” He explained that he bought the company “because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square” and because he feared that social media was in danger of splintering into echo chambers “that generate more hate and divide our society.”

The comment contradicted his previous stance that, as Twitter’s owner, he would revisit its content moderation policies and bolster free speech. “Fundamentally, Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise,” Musk said. “Let us build something extraordinary together.”

These comments were uttered by the same billionaire who once claimed, “I hate advertising.”

Renee Hobbs, director of the Media Education Lab, shared with CleanTechnica another way to explain Musk’s contradictions.

“Every reader, viewer, and user should understand that media companies engage in editorial practices that make it possible for information, entertainment, and persuasion to thrive. Content moderation is a form of editorial decision-making that is vital to the quality of user experience. A decision to abandon content moderation in the name of  ‘free speech’ is a political act that celebrates division, conflict, and chaos.”

How Twisting Discourse around Free Speech Threatens the US

advertising on Twitter

“Free Speech” by mellowbox, CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Tesla no longer has a press department that responds to media inquiries. It does not engage in traditional print or mass media advertising. Instead, Tesla has relied on exposure through media days and Musk’s own unfiltered tweets, which, even prior to his purchase of Twitter, have been the cause of significant controversy.

Now that he owns the social media platform, speculation is rife that Musk will follow through on his frequently stated ambition for Twitter to become a forum for free speech where any person is welcome. That wish is idealistic and a bit naiive, as reputable communication channels assess harassment and other objectionable content to protect the larger social good.

Yet Musk has said he is opposed to any “censorship that goes far beyond the law” and wants to fix Twitter’s “strong left-wing bias.”

Yonty Freisem, associate director of the Media Education Lab, told CleanTechnica that social media platforms today do not want to take responsibility for content, “claiming they are only a conduit of information.” Such a lack of accepting responsibility becomes increasingly relevant with Twitter’s change of leadership. As part of his $44 billion acquisition of the social media service, Musk is delisting the company’s stock and taking it out of the hands of public shareholders. Freisem warns that “changing it from a public company to a private money-driven company is alarming, with no regulation, no responsibility, no accountability about any content that anyone can post.”

Without requirements for quarterly public disclosures about performance and with less regulatory scrutiny, Twitter will be more tightly controlled by Musk. He can adjust the platform’s content rules, its finances, and its priorities, as the New York Times notes, without having to consider the worries of the investing public. With A1 marketing already influencing digital content and discourse, this free speech mantra, according to Wired, may “translate to an ethos of just about anything goes.”

Musk has indicated he plans to take Twitter’s new holding company public again in 3 to 5 years — after the free speech dust has settled.

Final Thoughts about Advertising on Twitter in the Era of Musk

As other advertisers pull their dollars from Twitter, it is clear that the exodus is not contained within the automotive world.

For example, Shonda Rhimes, the very successful television producer, has announced that she is pulling her advertising from Twitter. Rhimes has 1.9 million followers. As Fortune argues, such advertisers have little appetite to appear near offensive content, and there’s been a sharp increase in hate speech since Musk took control.

Twitter trolls are flooding the platform with racial slurs and Nazi memes.

As Musk fulfills his promises to scale back content moderation, users, too, may experience heightened privacy concerns. Twitter does not have a user subscription cost because it makes its money on advertising and access to data about its hundreds of millions of users. (Newly concerned? The Washington Post offers a detailed guide to protecting as much of your Twitter data as possible.)

Each time we post on social media, we make a choice. We agree to relinquish our public personas to centralized, advertising-driven companies controlled by a few white men. In sharing what seems to be free digital communication, we have created an anti-democratic space in which anyone can tweet anything — from cute cat pictures to out-and-out lies. We’ve allowed billionaires to control communication channels, and they care little for authentic free speech — that kind of exchange of messages that’s meant to illuminate and inform, to make meaning among disparate groups and to invite justice.

Can Musk transcend the allure of making billions more and recognize he has within his grasp the capacity to extinguish anger, hyperbole, lies, and systemic oppression? We know he’s brilliant. Can he also be an astute and influential thought leader who brings together a divided society with the collective goal of an equitable, sustainable life for all?

Featured image: “Elon Musk Dreaming of a Brighter Future,” by jurvetson, CC BY 2.0 license.

 
 
 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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