elon musk / alex jones

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EXCLUSIVE: As Musk invites Alex Jones back to X, advertiser opts out of pushing promos next to InfoWars host

It's a similar concern to what inspired massive backlash last month.

 

Steven Monacelli

Tech

Posted on Dec 11, 2023

At least one advertiser is excluding Alex Jones’ handle from their parameters for advertising on Twitter after Elon Musk reinstated the controversial conspiracy theorist to the platform. 

Over the weekend, Musk broke his pledge to never bring Jones back, reinstating the account after a poll voted in favor of allowing him to return. 

The situation poses another thorny situation for advertisers, a number of which recently fled the site after X was accused of placing ads next to extreme content, including antisemitic and Nazi-adjacent views. 

Advertisements do not currently appear directly on Jones’ page, the Daily Dot found, though advertisements were being served when users searched for his handle, @RealAlexJones, a placement that some may balk at given Jones’ stated views, including that the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a false flag. 

At least one company is already amending their advertising practices in the wake of seeing their ads next to Jones’ name. 

“We can assure you that we did not target our ads to show up when users search for this concrete user handle,” a spokesperson for NordVPN told the Daily Dot. “While we can set characteristics of the target audience, Twitter/X algorithm opts the concrete placement of ads. Thus users may see our ads depending on their interests and other targeting features. Nevertheless, we are investigating the situation and we excluded this specific handle when displaying ads.”

Advertisers who appeared in the searches for Jones’ profile included: NordVPN, a virtual private network provider; ASUS, a multinational electronics manufacturer; Semafor, a news website founded in 2022; as well as an education nonprofit, a kidney charity, and a men’s magazine.

ASUS and Semafor did not respond to a request for comment. X did not respond to a request for comment from the Daily Dot. 

The decision to reinstate Jones could be a further blow to the site, as many advertisers have already left the platform as it has taken a turn toward uncensored extremist content. 

The placement of ads in association with Jones is similar to the previous dustup over advertising on X. 

Last month, left-leaning media watchdog group Media Matters released a report showing that X placed ads from several major companies alongside white nationalist hashtags and pro-Nazi content, spurring several big spenders to pull ads from the platform.

As people were pointing out the issue, X appeared to restrict all ads from appearing in searches, a move that it seems to have rescinded, given some ads were appearing in searches for @RealAlexJones.

Musk subsequently filed a lawsuit against Media Matters alleging malicious misrepresentation and lashed out at companies that froze X advertising during the DealBook Summit on Nov. 29, telling them to “Go fuck yourself” and calling out Disney CEO Bob Iger by name.

Advertisers remaining on X now must consider the possibility that their ads could be served up in the same feed as conspiratorial content from Jones, who in 2022 was ordered by courts to pay over $1 billion in fines as a part of three defamation lawsuits against him for falsely claiming that the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting that left 26 people dead was a hoax. 

“I think bringing Alex Jones back is kind of a nail-in-the-coffin moment for X,” Nandini Jammi, a co-founder of Check My Ads, a non-profit advertising watchdog, said to the Daily Dot. “He’s one of the few figures that you don’t have to explain to advertisers and platforms. Everyone in the industry knows who he is. Everyone knows he’s a dangerous, unhinged liar. And the thing is, bringing him back to the platform will only lead to generation and amplification of the kind of content they spend millions of dollars to avoid. If Musk is trying to lean into being the free speech platform, I hope he understands that advertisers have free speech protections too. And they’re going to use it to stay far away from him.”

Musk’s decision to allow Jones to return to the platform runs counter to a statement he made in Nov. 2022, in which Musk explained why he refused to have the InfoWars host back on X.

“My firstborn child died in my arms,” Musk wrote. “I felt his last heartbeat. I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.”

But this seemingly principled stance, informed by a tragic story that Musk’s ex-wife said happened differently, was apparently open to reconsideration.

Publicly, Musk attributed his change of heart to a user poll that saw a majority of users vote to reinstate Jones’ account. 

But Musk then joined a Twitter Spaces conversation with Jones. 

During the livestream, Musk asked Jones directly about his controversial statements that doubted the reality of the Sandy Hook massacre. “If someone is denying murders of children, that’s not cool,” Musk said. “What exactly did you say and what’s going on with that situation?”

After Jones acknowledged he was found liable for damages in court, he deflected responsibility. 

“I did say a few times that I thought it hadn’t happened,” Jones said. “But I didn’t turn the knife.”

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*First Published: Dec 11, 2023, 2:06 pm CST