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Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of X, faces a mounting backlash after he called an antisemitic post on the social platform this week “the actual truth,” dismaying investors and prompting some companies to halt advertising on the platform.

Multiple advertisers — including IBM, the European Commission and the movie studio Lionsgate — said they are pulling spending on X (formerly known as Twitter), citing reports of rising hate speech, including a report that some ads are appearing next to Nazi-related content. 

A Lionsgate spokesperson told CBS News in a statement Friday that the company “has suspended advertising on X because of Elon Musk’s recent antisemitic tweets.”

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The White House also issued a statement, calling Musk’s comment “unacceptable.”

“We condemn this abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate in the strongest terms, which runs against our core values as Americans,” a White House spokesman said on Friday.

The blowback comes as X has already suffered a loss of advertisers, with some wary about their brands appearing on the platform amid reports of rising hate speech. Musk hired former NBC executive Linda Yaccarino to convince big brands to return to the social media service, a job that now appears to face additional headwinds in the aftermath of Musk’s comment. 

Advertising on X fell 60% in September and revenue has sunk, Bloomberg News reporter Aisha Counts recently told CBS News. In July, Musk said the company’s ad revenue had plunged 50%, while also noting its heavy debt load. 

In September, global web traffic on the site dropped 14%, according to Simiilarweb. Overall traffic on X has sunk nearly 7% through the first nine months of 2023 compared with the year-ago period, the market research firm said in a recent report, while noting that social media usage is down across the board.

Musk’s move to endorse antisemitic ideas associated with White supremacists is also unsettling shareholders in Tesla, the electric car makers he started. Tesla investors are “frustrated and dismayed” by this latest controversy, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives told CBS MoneyWatch. 

“It was a dark day for Musk and Tesla with this X post heard around the world,” Ives said in an email. “[L]ongtime shareholders are asking what is next? We see no changes to Musk leadership, but this is a black eye that will not be forgotten by many.”

Yaccarino on Thursday sought to dilute the fallout from Musk’s comments, saying in a post on X that the company has “been extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination. There’s no place for it anywhere in the world — it’s ugly and wrong. Full stop.”

Still, Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz wrote on Threads that Yaccarino should ask Musk to step down at X. She “faces her biggest test yet as she decides whether to terminate her antisemitic CTO or risk losing even more advertisers,” he wrote, referring to Musk’s role as the Chief Technology Officer at X.

Musk’s “actual truth”

Musk, the world’s richest person, sparked the backlash by expressing support on Thursday for an antisemitic post on the platform, describing it as “the actual truth.”

The original X user’s post claimed Jews “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” 

Musk responded, “You have said the actual truth” while also criticizing the Anti-Defamation League, an advocacy group that works to combat hate against Jewish people. “The ADL unjustly attacks the majority of the West, despite the majority of the West supporting the Jewish people and Israel. This is because they cannot, by their own tenets, criticize the minority groups who are their primary threat,” Musk tweeted.

The original X post echoes antisemitic conspiracy theories that claim Jewish people want to bring in minorities to weaken and replace White majorities. Among those espousing that was convicted murderer Robert Bowers, who raged against Jews online before killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

At the same time, growing tensions due to the Israel-Hamas war has led to conflicts on U.S. college campuses over alleged antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents. Data released by the ADL has found a significant rise in antisemitic incidents across the U.S. since the conflict began.

Reports of ads next to Nazi content

Big advertisers including IBM, Apple, Oracle and Comcast’s Xfinity have had their ads appear next to Nazi-themed content on X, Media Matters said in a report this week. In response to the report, IBM said it is suspending advertising on the platform. 

Musk, meanwhile, lashed out at Media Matters on X. “Media Matters is an evil organization,” he wrote on Thursday night. 

The European Commission on Friday said it’s halting advertising on X as well as on all other social media networks, pointing to a recent “alarming increase in disinformation and hate speech,” although they said the decision wasn’t specifically about their presence on X.

“This is about advertisement campaigns — for these, we continuously assess and evaluate the media environment for our campaigns in view of our communication objectives,” a spokesman said.

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