In a perplexing performance at yesterday's New York Times DealBook Summit, Twitter owner Elon Musk told advertisers dropping the platform to "go fuck yourself". In fact, he did so three times, and took a specific swipe at Disney CEO Bob Iger before going on to say that the departure of major advertisers like Apple, Disney, and Warner Bros. is "going to kill the company."
NYT journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin had asked Musk if the billionaire was on an "apology tour" for recent controversies—like Musk's endorsement of an antisemitic tweet and a Media Matters report showing that Twitter was placing ads next to pro-Nazi content—that has driven many companies to pause advertising on the site entirely. Musk appeared to take the question personally, announcing "I hope they stop [advertising]," before elaborating that "If somebody's going to try to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money, go fuck yourself."
The videopic.twitter.com/cPWVO1MQCD https://t.co/d1kE5ICJ7kNovember 29, 2023
That left Sorkin—and the crowd—in a bit of a stunned silence, which Musk filled by repeating "Go. Fuck. Yourself," with hand gestures to underline his point. The CEO then gave a wave and a "Hey Bob! If you're in the audience," presumably a jab at Bob Iger, before Sorkin was able to regain his composure and ask a follow-up question about the economic realities of so many big advertisers fleeing Twitter. For reference, in 2021, 90% of Twitter's revenue came from advertising, and it continues to be the source of most of its revenue today.
Musk responded to this follow-up by repeating "G. F. Y," before an exasperated Sorkin put the question to him again. It was only at this point that Musk deigned to give something resembling a full answer, lambasting advertisers' exit from Twitter as "an advertising boycott" that "is going to kill the company." Musk continues to be convinced, though, that the silent majority is on his side. When told that advertisers would say it was Musk himself who was killing the company, he responded "Oh yeah? Tell it to Earth… Let's see how Earth responds to that."
It is a baffling exchange, not helped by the fact that Musk appears to think he has abundant charisma and a sympathetic crowd, neither of which is really borne out by the reality of the conversation. Despite Musk's attempted swagger, it seems inevitable that the advertiser exodus, widespread condemnation of his own actions (the White House criticised Musk's endorsement of that aforementioned antisemitic tweet as "abhorrent"), and declining revenues at Twitter will have to spark some kind of make-or-break moment for the platform where it either sheds the toxic image Musk has built around it (perhaps through a sale to a new owner) or goes under completely. I guess we'll find out which it will be soon enough.
At least one major games company has paused its Twitter advertising since this latest round of controversy. Ubisoft confirmed it was suspending ads on the service last week, and Blizzard, Microsoft, and Sony have all ended integration of the Twitter app in their games and services.