X CEO Linda Yaccarino, the longtime NBC advertising executive tapped to bring back revenue and credibility to the company from big advertisers, is facing her own credibility crisis as advertisers halt spending over Elon Musk’s endorsement of antisemitic abuse on the social media platform.
Forbes has confirmed that Yaccarino has been contacted by a groundswell of leading advertising executives who questioned why she is risking her reputation to shield Musk’s behavior—and suggested that she could make a statement about racism and antisemitism by stepping down. She has so far resisted their entreaties, sources said.
Last week, Musk endorsed an explicitly antisemitic conspiracy theory, and a report from watchdog Media Matters found that ads from major companies including IBM and Amazon had been placed next to content promoting Nazis and white nationalism, prompting advertisers including Apple, Disney and IBM to pull ads from the platform. Even the White House has condemned Musk’s antisemitic and racist statement, in which Musk agreed with an X user who espoused a conspiracy theory that “Jewish communities have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.”
On November 16, Yaccarino responded to the firestorm in a post on X: “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. When it comes to this platform — X has also been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination. There’s no place for it anywhere in the world — it’s ugly and wrong. Full stop.” Yaccarino did not immediately respond to a comment request made through X’s press team.
The personal outreach to Yaccarino by leading advertising executives comes as X, previously known as Twitter, struggles to right itself under its mercurial owner and to battle the advertiser-unfriendly content his behavior has emboldened. After nearly a dozen years at NBCUniversal as its top advertising executive, where she also launched a partnership with the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, Yaccarino was brought in six months ago to ease advertisers’ nerves over the surge in hate speech and other toxic content on Twitter since Musk bought the platform for $44 billion. But in her first interview after starting as CEO, Yaccarino stated that “by all objective metrics, X is a much healthier and safer platform than it was a year ago.” The CEO, who one source said has political aspirations, pledged to build tools to help give advertisers more control over what content their ads would appear next to.
But the new measures the company implemented to shield advertisers have not worked as promised, sources in position to know told Forbes. One, a machine learning enhanced “Sensitivity Settings,” was intended as a supplement of existing controls already provided to advertisers concerned about ads appearing next to untoward content, according to this person and materials viewed by Forbes. It was to be an AI powered safety net in addition to keyword filtering and block lists, and companies with “strict sensitivity thresholds” would be able to set it to “Conservative” to protect them from “targeted hate speech, sexual content, gratuitous gore, excessive profanity, obscenity, spam and drugs.”
Two other settings provided lower thresholds for sensitive content: “Relaxed (coming soon),” and “Standard.” These too used “targeted hate speech” as the first example of content that would be avoided by selecting that setting. Beyond this, the admin panel for the tool pledges that “Content that is in violation of X’s rules is excluded regardless of the sensitivity level selected,” making it clear that each of these settings added an additional level of protection.
However, it did not appear to stop ads placed by Apple, Bravo, Oracle, Xfinity, and IBM to appear next to posts touting Hitler and the Nazi Party. Beyond the hate content itself, it was Twitter’s failure to again deliver on another of its promises of protection that so infuriated the brands who pulled their ads, a source told Forbes. Musk has now said he will sue Media Matters over its report.
Reached for comment, X autoresponded, “busy now, please check back later.”
Alexandra Levine and Katharine Schwab contributed reporting.