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    Monday, May 27, 2024

    Backlash spreads over Musk’s endorsement of antisemitic post

    An "X" sign sits atop the social media platform's headquarters, in San Francisco, on July 28, 2023. IBM has stopped advertising on X after a report said its ads were appearing alongside material praising Adolf Hitler and Nazis. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
    Elon Musk, owner of social media platform X, gestures during an event with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London on Nov. 2, 2023. IBM has stopped advertising on X after a report said its ads were appearing alongside material praising Adolf Hitler and Nazis. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool, File)

    Outcry over unchecked antisemitic content and commentary on social media site X, some of it endorsed by the platform’s owner Elon Musk, reached a tipping point on Friday, with large advertisers such as Apple Inc. pulling ads and the White House chastising the billionaire.

    Musk, who regularly engages with antisemitic users on X, agreed with a post that said Jewish people hold a “dialectical hatred” of white people. “You have said the actual truth,” Musk responded.

    The White House called Musk’s reply an “unacceptable” act that endangers Jewish communities. Meanwhile, several Tesla Inc. shareholders also spoke out against Musk, who is the chief executive officer of the electric car maker, with some saying he should be suspended from his post.

    Americans have “an obligation to speak out against anyone who attacks the dignity of their fellow Americans and compromises the safety of our communities,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement on Friday. Musk’s companies, including Space Exploration Technologies Corp., hold several government contracts.

    Musk’s remarks added to backlash sparked by a report released Thursday from Media Matters showing ads for Apple, International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp., Comcast Corp.’s Xfinity brand and the Bravo television network running on X next to pro-Nazi content. IBM said it will stop advertising on X until the situation is resolved. The European Commission and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. also said they would pull ads on X.

    Apple, one of the biggest advertisers on X, said it’s taking a pause in showing ads on the site. The two companies already had a precarious relationship. After Musk took over the social network last year — unleashing a torrent of job cuts and policy changes — Apple also suspended advertising for a while. Musk escalated tensions by implying that he might break Apple’s App Store rules in order to stop paying fees.

    But he and Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook met at the iPhone maker’s headquarters late last year and patched up the relationship. Musk said in December that Apple had “fully resumed” advertising on what was then called Twitter.

    Cook has previously called X an “important property” but said he disagrees with the antisemitic discourse that has allegedly increased since Musk took over. He has said that the Cupertino, California-based company “constantly” asks itself if it should continue advertising.

    Axios earlier on Friday reported that Apple is pausing ads on X.

    “X has also been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination,” Chief Executive Officer Linda Yaccarino said on the platform Thursday. “There’s no place for it anywhere in the world — it’s ugly and wrong. Full stop.”

    Musk didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    The latest remarks from Musk, who is the world’s richest person, come at a time of rising antisemitism and Islamophobia around the world amid the Israel-Hamas war. The Anti-Defamation League found antisemitism on X increased by more than 900% in the week following the initial Oct. 7 attack by Hamas compared to the previous week.

    Last year, the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy organization, called on Musk to apologize after he deleted a controversial tweet that made a satirical comparison between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Adolf Hitler.

    “I’ve just never had this with any company I’ve ever invested in, ever in my life, where the CEO of the company himself does so many detrimental things,” Ross Gerber, co-founder and chief executive officer of wealth-management firm Gerber Kawasaki Inc., said on CNBC on Thursday. “It’s destroying the brand.”

    Musk has accused the ADL, a Jewish civil rights group, of undermining X’s advertising revenue by highlighting a rise in extremist content that has caused advertisers to flee. Ad sales on X are down 60% “primarily due to pressure on advertisers” mounted by the ADL, Musk said in September, after the organization said reports of harassment and extremist content spiked since he took over the company.

    In September, Musk met with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu at Tesla’s offices in Fremont, Calif., for a broadcast discussion and said, “obviously I’m against antisemitism. I’m against anti-anything that promotes hate and conflict.”

    At the end of the long and wide-ranging conversation, Musk shared that he had attended a Jewish school while growing up in South Africa and could even sing “a great ‘Hava Nagila,’” a Jewish folk song.

    Kristin Hull, founder and chief executive officer of Nia Impact Capital, said she was “appalled” by Musk’s new posts. The social-impact fund owned about $282,200 of Tesla stock as of midyear and has waged pressure campaigns against the company for years, including via shareholder resolutions.

    “The impact of erratic, racist, and antisemitic speech from a CEO directly affects Tesla’s brand and bottom line in significant ways,” Hull wrote in an email Thursday. She said an appropriate response to Musk’s actions may include censure by Tesla’s board, demotion, re-assignment, suspension or removal.

    The European Commission advised staff to stop advertising on X due to “an alarming increase in disinformation and hate speech,” it said in a statement on Friday, which didn’t specifically cite Musk’s posts. The move was initially reported by Politico.

    “The European Commission has only advertised about $5,000 so far this year, but is still organically posting across all its X handles,” Joe Benarroch, head of business operations for X, said in a message to Bloomberg.

    Comcast is looking into the matter, a spokesperson said. Apple and Oracle didn’t respond to requests for comment. IBM’s decision was reported earlier by the Financial Times.

    X did a sweep on the accounts that Media Matters found associated with the offensive content and they will no longer be monetizable, Benarroch said. The specific posts will be labeled “Sensitive Media.”

    The X system is not intentionally placing a brand actively next to this type of content, nor is a brand actively trying to support this type of content with an ad placement, Benarroch said.

    Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, also head of project-management software maker Asana Inc., said Yaccarino should ask Musk, who owns X and serves as the company’s chief technology officer, to resign.

    “Yaccarino faces her biggest test yet as she decides whether to terminate her antisemitic CTO or risk losing even more advertisers,” he wrote on Threads, another social media site. “How will she handle this tricky, yet morally unambiguous situation?”

    (With assistance from Todd Shields, Jillian Deutsch, Craig Trudell, Ed Ludlow and Ian King.)

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.