It’s been an interesting ride for Twitter since Elon Musk took charge. Thousands of employees have been laid off, content moderation is almost non-existent, and formerly banned users are back on the platform.
All of this turmoil has led many brands to at least pause their advertising on Twitter, and others to leave altogether. Perhaps Musk has gotten the overhead on Twitter down to a level where it doesn’t matter if there are advertisers on Twitter.
High profile users like Apple's Phil Schiller, Oprah Winfrey and Elton John have all deleted their accounts, taking their followers with them. Meanwhile, Kanye West (though his reinstatement didn't last long; he's been banned again) and Donald Trump have been reinstated. So if you’re a woke, egalitarian, non-discriminatory leftie, get off the platform. If you’re a right-wing, white supremecy-loving anti-semite, welcome back.
But where does this leave Twitter? Musk has interesting goals. On the one hand, he’s revolutionized the electric car. There wouldn’t be an electric car industry without Tesla. Musk has proven that the electric car is a viable form of transportation. His SpaceX rocket service takes astronauts to the International Space Station for a fraction of the cost of hiring the Russians to do it as well as giving NASA some semblance of security in case the Russians have a snit and take their Soyuz home with them. Musk has also launched a satellite internet service called Starlink that has brought the internet to remote areas at a reasonable price without the need for traditional infrastructure.
But in all of this, there’s the turmoil at Twitter. There are those (me among them) who would rather Musk concentrate on the panel gaps on a Model Y than play with Twitter. His advertisers feel much the same. 50 of his top 100 advertisers have left Twitter.
So how does the train wreck at Twitter affect Facebook?
Well, Mark Zuckerberg, like Musk, pretty much does whatever he wants. And what he’s wanted in the last few years is to create a world, a “metaverse” where we cease to interact directly with each other and do it virtually. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, would be happy to sell you some special goggles so that you can view this world. Once you’re captive in it, ads would appear for products and services that you can purchase. In fact, the goggles can map your home as you wander through it, so Zuck will learn what you have and where you have it. Through machine learning, it’ll now try to sell you a new coffee maker or pair of shoes, knowing what brands you currently have. The metaverse could be the single biggest invasion of personal privacy in this decade.
Except, no one seems to want it. People haven’t lined up to purchase the goggles. Advertisers have shied away because of the lack of a user base. Zuck has spent billions on the metaverse, with very little to show for it.
Meanwhile, Netflix has introduced a new streaming service at a lower cost to the user that is ad supported. It’s early days, but Netflix will be able to tell advertisers exactly what their users are watching and when. There are rumours that Disney will follow suit with a similar service. For a fee, you can still opt out of the ad-supported service. But this gives advertisers two channels of socially acceptable advertising without misogyny, racism or white supremacy to flog their wares. And this is the danger to Facebook and Twitter. Why would Coca-Cola advertise their products next to a post for a gun-toting rally against a library’s trans storybook reading? Now you may say that that’s the audience Coke wants to reach. I’m thinking maybe not.
Advertisers don’t like turmoil. They don’t like instability. They’ll go to where results are measurable, the audience is well identified and the platform is stable. Can you get more stable than Disney? Can you get more reliable than Netflix?
It’s only a matter of time before other streaming services include an ad supported tier. We’ve recently subscribed to the Criterion Collection for a vast archive of classic films. We’re not huge fans of the blockbuster mega-franchises. We’ll go see the latest Avatar, but it just looks like a cartoon now from what I’ve seen from the trailer. But Katherine Hepburn getting under Cary Grant’s skin in Bringing Up Baby? Bring it on. The Criterion Collection is a perfect example of a service that could offer ads on a stable platform.
Which means big advertisers will leave Facebook like they’ve left Twitter. Brand is everything, and they’re not going to risk that brand reputation on the wild west of Twitter and Facebook. Musk has very deep pockets but if the goal is to make money, he’s going to have to do something about the douchebaggery that’s on Twitter. And Zuck’s going to be legislated to do something about Facebook if he continues his penchant for allowing any and all unmoderated content on Facebook.
In an ideal world, Twitter and Facebook would just go away. We wouldn’t have as divided a society as we do now. We would still be able to discuss things instead of flaming each other on so-called social media. More like anti-social media. Maybe even pick up the telephone and chat with each other once in a while. Where racists don’t give others permission to spout their horrible views.
Was there all of this turmoil bubbling under the surface before Facebook and Twitter? Probably. Was it tamped down? Yes. Are we better for letting the lid off of the simmering pot? Time will tell.
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