X boss Elon Musk tries to make nice with world at ad biz conference

Where we're at in 2024: Billionaire says he didn't mean to tell everyone to 'go f%$k themselves'

Just seven months ago, Elon Musk told an interviewer: "If someone's going to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money, go fuck yourself. Go. Fuck. Yourself. Is that clear? I hope it is."

But on Wednesday, Musk, in his capacity as the owner of X, joined company CEO Linda Yaccarino in a charm offensive aimed at advertising firms attending an industry conference, wanting it to be known he didn't mean "advertisers as a whole."

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is one of the world's largest annual events for the advertising industry. Musk's attendance is something of a u-turn for the tech tycoon and X, which has been controversial for advertisers in the wake of increasingly lenient moderation policies that have seen public figures like ex-president Donald Trump and neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes return to the platform.

By the man's own admission, ad revenue from the company formerly known as Twitter has plummeted since Musk's acquisition.

The tensions between Musk and advertisers came to a head last November during Musk's fateful interview with New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin at the newspaper's DealBook Summit. His comments at the time also included a callout specifically against Disney CEO Bob Iger as well as the accusations that ad firms were blackmailing his platform.

Yesterday, he spent time trying to undo some of that damage, up on stage with interviewer Mark Read, CEO of WPP, a major international advertising company.

"Elon, welcome to the heart of the advertising industry," Read said to start off. "Now, back in November, you had a message to us. You told us to sort of go fuck ourselves. So, maybe we start there… it's a serious question, why did you say that, and what did you mean by that?"

This was apparently quite the curveball for the X boss, who took a few seconds to string a response together. "Well, first of all it wasn't a… you know, it wasn't to advertisers as a whole," he said. "It was, with respect to freedom of speech, I think it is important to have a global free speech platform where people from a wide range of opinions can voice their views."

"And in some cases there were advertisers who were insisting on censorship, and at the end of the day if there is censorship… if we have to make a choice between censorship and money or free speech and losing money, we're going to pick the second."

While this is similar to what Musk had said in November, after this point he admitted to the ad firms in the crowd that "advertisers have a right to appear next to content that they find compatible with their brands." That's a notable change in tune for Musk, who sued Media Matters for showing how ads from companies like IBM could show up next to antisemitic content. Many advertisers reacted by fleeing the platform, triggering Musk's "go fuck yourself" tirade.

It's not clear if this rapprochement and Musk's claims that X has an "A+ on brand safety" will be enough to get him and his company back into the good graces of some in the advertising industry.

But, since X is apparently down substantially in ad revenue, any reprieve would probably be welcomed at this point. ®

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