IBM pauses advertising on X after ads show up next to antisemitic content

IBM has paused advertising on X after reports emerged that its ads had been served alongside antisemitic content on the platform.

“IBM has zero tolerance for hate speech and discrimination and we have immediately suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this entirely unacceptable situation,” Big Blue confirmed to The Register. 

The move appears to have been triggered by a report from Media Matters published yesterday that found ads from IBM, as well as Apple, Oracle, Xfinity, and Bravo, next to “pro-Nazi content.” Bravo is a US cable network owned by Twitter-slash-X CEO Linda Yaccarino’s former employer, NBCUniversal, where she was previously the chairman of global advertising and partnerships.

It’s unclear whether the other companies have also paused advertisements. We contacted those whose ads were flagged by Media Matters, but haven’t heard back from any except IBM.

The European Commission has reportedly also paused advertising on X, according to internal documents viewed by Politico, in response to “widespread concerns relating to the spread of disinformation.” Apple has also apparently pulled its Twitter ads, too.

For what it’s worth, there is a general slowdown in online advertising spend lately; it may suit IBM et al to pull their ads in these uncertain times and save some money, with disinformation chiefly blamed. Some say Twitter has always had an antisemitism problem.

That said, the Media Matters report and IBM ad pause comes a day after platform owner Elon Musk responded to an X user promoting – without naming – the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which alleges the existence of a global Jewish plot to replace the population of majority white countries with minorities.

“You have said the actual truth,” Musk told a poster who claimed that Jewish communities have pushed “dialectical hatred against whites,” and were now forced to confront the fact that “those hordes of minorities … don’t exactly like them too much” either.

Yaccarino went into damage control mode on X yesterday, insisting that antisemitism and discrimination has no place “anywhere in the world – it’s ugly and wrong. Full stop.” 

“X’s point of view has always been very clear that discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board – I think that’s something we can and should all agree on,” Yaccarino added. “When it comes to this platform – X has also been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination.”

Nuance, please, pleads X

X responded to questions from The Register, again providing a statement from an unnamed executive at the company.

Twitter told us that Media Matters and groups like it “aggressively search for posts on X and then go to the accounts, and if they see an ad, Media Matters researchers keep hitting refresh to capture as many brands as possible.”

X’s advertising platform doesn’t intentionally place any ads next to inflammatory content, nor does ad placement suggest a brand is supporting that type of speech, X told us. “Ads follow the people,” the executive said, meaning that the researcher doing the investigation is going to see content applicable to them. “That’s how user targeting works,” we’re told.

Nonetheless, X said it did a sweep of the accounts Media Matters found antisemitic content on, “and they will no longer be monetizable and the specific posts will be labeled ‘Sensitive Media’.” Not removed, though.

“Post-acquisition X made investments to ensure that X is at parity or has stronger Brand Safety and Suitability controls than other platforms,” the X-ecutive said. “So far this year, 99 percent of measured ad placements have appeared adjacent to content scoring above the brand safety ‘floor’ criteria set by [the Global Alliance for Responsible Media].”

X also claimed that its logs show none of the ads Media Matters singled out in its report ran next to the posts it showed, at least as of November 15. X alleged that Media Matters would have had to capture all of its examples in the morning yesterday prior to posting its report, but X can’t confirm the legitimacy of the ads reported by Media Matters until all its logs for November 16 are complete, which they apparently weren’t when we asked this morning.

Yaccarino has her work cut out for her

X’s advertising revenue – its primary source of income when it was called Twitter – has been suffering since Musk’s purchase in October 2022. Ad revenue shrunk considerably in the wake of Musk’s acquisition as brand safety concerns arose and major advertisers began to flee the platform.

While many have reportedly returned, their spending on X is said to be minuscule compared to what it was in the pre-Musk days. 

Yaccarino joined the company earlier than planned as advertising revenue continued to decline, and has gone on an ad safety blitz in one of several attempts to win back advertisers. Ad revenue was reportedly down by half shortly after her takeover, and this latest hate speech hubbub isn’t likely to help that.

Meanwhile, the banks who funded Musk’s acquisition are getting antsy. More fleeing advertisers means more lost revenue and more likelihood that the bonds held by the financiers are unsellable. Musk has placed the blame on groups like Jewish anti-hate group the Anti-Defamation League, which he threatened to sue in September.

“The ADL unjustly attacks the majority of the West, despite the majority of the West supporting the Jewish people and Israel,” Musk said of the group on Wednesday. “This is because they cannot, by their own tenets, criticize the minority groups who are their primary threat.”

“This does not extend to all Jewish communities, but it is also not just limited to ADL,” Musk added.

Good luck with the brand safety maneuvering around that, Linda. ®

PS: Readers will no doubt know of IBM’s history with Nazi Germany: Big Blue’s European subsidiaries supplied calculating machines to the German government in and around World War II. By 1941, the US corporation had cut ties with Hitler’s administration. Decades on, IBM has said it “deplores the Nazi regime and its atrocities.”


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