X chief Linda Yaccarino resists pressure from advertisers to quit

Brands have paused spending on social media platform over concerns about Elon Musk and antisemitic content

Linda Yaccarino is resisting growing pressure from advertisers to step down as the chief executive of X, as big brands pause their spending on the platform over concerns about its owner Elon Musk and anti-Semitic content.

Over the weekend, a groundswell of executives and friends of Yaccarino from the advertising industry privately urged her to resign in order to save her reputation, according to three people familiar with the matter.

However, she has refused to leave her position, two of the people said, telling those who have called her that she believes in X’s mission and its employees. X declined to comment.

Mr Musk, who bought X last year for $44 billion (€40 billion), came under fire last week for publicly endorsing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on the site. Meanwhile, two reports from left-leaning non-profit group Media Matters for America last week found advertisements for top brands next to posts touting “pro-Nazi” and white nationalist content.

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The research prompted brands including IBM, Apple, Walt Disney, Comcast and Warner Bros to suspend their advertising on the platform, for fear of their marketing appearing alongside further unsavoury material. They and other companies are also attempting to distance themselves from Musk following his comments.

“I did advise Linda via text to go and [said] that staying would only damage her reputation,” said Lou Paskalis, chief executive of marketing consultancy AJL Advisory and a former top media executive at Bank of America. He said brands might face shareholder complaints and potential customer boycotts if they continued to advertise on the platform.

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“I’d question the judgment of any brand – any brand – that is still advertising on X,” he added. “[Musk] has to find a new revenue model as he has killed advertising on the platform, period, full stop.”

X hired Ms Yaccarino in June to woo marketers back to the platform after many pulled their spending as Mr Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist”, relaxed its moderation policies and cut safety resources and staff. She is the former head of advertising at NBCUniversal.

A popular industry veteran known for her strong relationships in the sector, she has been repeatedly forced to navigate pushback from users and advertisers over changes made by Musk to the platform and controversial comments he has posted.

The lobbying for Ms Yaccarino to quit began as she attended her daughter’s wedding on Saturday, two people said. One of those involved in the effort insisted they had her best interests in mind, describing the situation as painful. Forbes first reported on the lobbying push.

During her time at the helm, Ms Yaccarino has maintained that X’s safety record is improving. She posted last week: “X has been extremely clear about our efforts to combat anti-Semitism and discrimination. There’s absolutely no place for it anywhere in the world.”

On Sunday, Mr Musk wrote on X: “This past week, there were hundreds of bogus media stories claiming that I am anti-Semitic. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish only the best for humanity and a prosperous and exciting future for all.”

A day earlier, Mr Musk vowed to file a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against Media Matters “the split second court opens on Monday” for what he claimed was a “fraudulent attack” on X.

Media Matters chief executive Angelo Carusone said in response: “If he does sue us, we will win.” X declined to comment further. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023