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Twitter won’t be a ‘hellscape’, Musk promises advertisers. They’re not so sure

Cantillon: Social media company needs to pay the bills but brands – and users – may not be minded to help out

Efforts by new Twitter owner Elon Musk to reassure advertisers appear to have been met with scepticism. Photograph: Chris Delmas/AFP

Twitter owner, chief executive and chief twit Elon Musk has changed his Twitter bio to “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator”, a reality that is presumably fun for him right now, but will swiftly become much less so when it is advertisers inundating the line.

Amid Musk’s hand-wringing about Twitter users who don’t understand his vision when he talks about charging for “blue tick” verification on the platform, he tweeted something that is self-evidently true and yet not often admitted. “We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers,” he responded to a tweet from author Stephen King saying “f*** that” to the floated idea of a $20 per month subscription for the “blue tick” (really a white tick) and other platform privileges.

Musk’s bizarre horse-trading with King – “how about $8?” he asked the novelist – distracted from this plain statement: Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. It is the truth all social media companies come to accept sooner or later. And yet Twitter – which has rarely turned a profit, and modest ones at that – relies almost entirely on advertisers for revenue.

The question now is whether it can rely on them at all.


So far, his bid to reassure advertisers has not worked. An open letter in which he promised Twitter would not become “a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences“ appears to have met the sort of scepticism Musk himself has dished out regularly throughout his Twitter career.

On Tuesday it was reported that advertising giant Interpublic Group has recommended that clients of its IPG Media Brands agencies suspend all paid advertising on Twitter for at least a week as they wait to see Musk’s plans for what is euphemistically known in the tech industry as “trust and safety”.

The move follows two events. The first was Elon Musk’s gobsmacking tweet spreading a baseless conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of US house speaker Nancy Pelosi. This reaffirmed concerns that Twitter under his reign will become even more of a toxic, misinformation-ridden place. The second event was the news that Sarah Personette, Twitter’s chief customer officer and its ad boss, has resigned.

Twitter’s ad sales were already in decline in the months leading up to the completion of Musk’s acquisition. The twin horrors of an imminent recession and Musk’s chaotic power-trips are unlikely to help.