Elon Musk’s proposed Twitter takeover has unsettled some advertisers that are concerned he would steer the app away from the brand safety course, which Twitter developed over the years through policies and partnerships with the ad world.
On Thursday, Musk made a proposal to acquire Twitter, after he bought more than 9% of shares in the company earlier this month. Musk also held a TED Talk on Thursday, in which he discussed buying Twitter on principles of advancing “free speech,” a seemingly noble goal that also could put a fright into C-suites at brands everywhere. Advertisers have been pushing social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to tamp down on divisiveness and extreme views; not to mention harassment, bullying and plain incivility.
“A free speech absolutist Twitter would be negative for the advertising business,” said Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at GroupM. “Musk’s interest for Twitter are not necessarily consistent with the interests of advertisers."
Musk, who has a devoted following of 81.7 million on Twitter, has always been a chaotic presence on the platform, using it for his own brand interests and views. But advertisers that have been closest to Twitter are worried about upsetting a delicate balance on the volatile platform. Twitter is a place to sound off on news of the day and discuss interests like sports, music and politics that drive many people's passions; sometimes those conversations can get heated. Brands often bounce between playful banter with the crowd and outright animosity. Musk, himself, is an expert at this medium.
Lou Paskalis, president and chief operating officer of marketing trade group MMA Global, has been close with Twitter since he was a marketing executive at Bank of America. Paskalis is a member of Twitter’s “influence council,” a group of brands and marketers that consults with the platform on how to set policies that try to keep the platform safe. Paskalis said that Twitter has been responsive to brands during some of the biggest crises. “Twitter should be ‘the global town square’ while also being safe for all users,” Paskalis told Ad Age. “That’s an almost impossibly high bar to achieve, but Twitter’s mission was to strike as optimum a balance between those two ideals as possible, and I believe they’ve achieved that, particularly when you compare them to other social platforms.”
Paskalis has often credited Twitter with taking responsibility and working to fix its biggest flaws, in contrast to Facebook, which is owned by Meta. Paskalis expressed concerns that Musk could “roll a bowling ball through all the well-crafted work that is in place now.”
“He’s a thoughtful guy,” Paskalis said of Musk, “and hopefully he would invest the time to understand the nuances of the balance between enabling ‘freedom of speech’ and ensuring user safety but there’s clearly some vibrant signal that he does not support the solutions that Twitter has put in place to date and that’s concerning.”