X boss Elon Musk softens ‘go f--- yourself’ comment as he tries to woo advertisers back

Ryan Browne
CNBC
Musk said it was meant as a general point on free speech rather than a comment to the wider advertising industry.
Musk said it was meant as a general point on free speech rather than a comment to the wider advertising industry. Credit: Chesnot/Getty Images

Elon Musk on Wednesday tried to walk back remarks lashing out at advertisers fleeing his X social media platform.

At the Cannes Lions advertising festival in Cannes, France, Musk was asked by WPP CEO Mark Read what he meant by telling advertisers threatening to pull ads from the platform late last year to “go f--- yourself.”

Musk said it was meant as a general point on free speech rather than a comment to the wider advertising industry.

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“It wasn’t to advertisers as a whole,” Musk 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 wider range of opinions can voice their views.”

“In some cases, there were advertisers who were insisting on censorship,” Musk said. “At the end of the day … if we have to make a choice between censorship and losing money, [or] censorship and money, or free speech and losing money, we’re going to choose the second.”

“We’re going to support free speech rather than agree to be censored for money which I think is the right moral decision,” he added.

Musk flew into Cannes earlier this week with an aim to reassure ad groups and global brands over the future of X.

He was joined by Linda Yaccarino, X’s CEO and former chairman of global advertising and partnerships for NBC Universal.

Free speech platform

Last year, some of the world’s largest advertisers including Apple, IBM, Disney, and Sony pulled their advertising on X in the wake of controversial comments made by Musk, as well as instances of their ad placements being featured alongside toxic posts.

In November, Musk travelled to Israel to meet with local officials after he was accused by civil rights groups of amplifying anti-Jewish hatred on X.

The tech billionaire, asked at the time whether this trip was an “apology tour” to advertisers, said onstage at 2023 DealBook Summit in New York that advertisers threatening to halt spending on ads on the platform should stop advertising on his platform.

“Don’t advertise,” he said in the November interview with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin. “If somebody is going to try and blackmail me with advertising? Blackmail me with money? Go f--- yourself.”

Musk on Wednesday backpedalled on his attacks against advertisers.

“Of course, advertisers have a right to appear next to content they find compatible with their brands,” he said. “What is not cool is insisting that there can be no content that they disagree with on the platforms.”

He added: “In order for X to be the public square for the world, it really better be a free speech platform — that doesn’t mean people can say illegal things; it’s free speech within the bounds of the law.”

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