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Elon Musk told advertisers who have halted spending on X due to his endorsement of an antisemitic post to “go fuck” themselves, deepening a rift between the billionaire and the companies that generate most of the social media platform’s revenue.
In a rollercoaster interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin at The New York Times Dealbook Summit on Wednesday, Musk said that a recent exodus of big brands — which included IBM, Apple, Walt Disney, Comcast and Warner Bros — was “going to kill the company, and the whole world will know the advertisers killed the company”.
But Musk, who bought X for $44bn in October 2022, dismissed the idea that he wanted the marketers to return. “If somebody is going to try to blackmail with advertising, blackmail me with money, go fuck yourself,” he said. “Go. Fuck. Yourself. Is that clear, I hope it is.”
Taking an apparent swipe at Disney chief executive Bob Iger, he added, chuckling: “Hey Bob, if you’re in the audience.” Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist”, responded to an antisemitic conspiracy theory on X, saying it was the “actual truth”. The post came under intense criticism, with a White House spokesperson labelling it “abhorrent”.
Soon after, 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. X later sued Media Matters, arguing that it was deliberately leading a “smear campaign” against the platform.
The backlash prompted a further round of advertisers to depart the platform. Many had already pulled spending when Musk first took the reins, as he relaxed the site’s moderation policies and fired many employees overseeing platform safety.
Wednesday’s comments will probably further alienate Musk from advertising clients, posing a challenge to the company’s financial health and to his chief executive Linda Yaccarino, who was hired to win them back. X did not respond to a request for comment from Yaccarino, who was apparently present at the conference during Musk’s tirade.
Musk said in July that X was “still negative cash flow” due to a 50 per cent drop in advertising revenue as a result of concerns from marketers “plus [a] heavy debt load”. The Tesla and SpaceX chief financed his takeover of X by saddling it with $13bn in debt from a syndicate of banks led by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays and Mitsubishi.
X relies largely on advertising revenues, although Musk has said he plans to diversify to areas such as subscriptions and payments.
Despite the profanities during the interview, Musk apologised for his post regarding the antisemitic tweet, calling it “perhaps one of the most foolish, if not the most foolish, thing I’ve ever done on the platform”. He also rejected the notion he was antisemitic and insisted he had been misunderstood.
Musk earlier this week visited Israel for the first time, and alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, toured areas attacked by Hamas on October 7.
In the wide-ranging interview, during which he quickly switched from sincere to flippant, Musk spoke about free speech, his power as the head of SpaceX and Starlink, and the recent drama at OpenAI, in which he was an early investor.
Additional reporting by Christopher Grimes in Los Angeles and Michael Acton in San Francisco
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