April 21, 2024

Elon Musk this week angrily told big advertisers like Disney and Apple who have halted spending on X/Twitter to “go fuck yourself.”

Bill Ackman, head of investment holding company Pershing Square Holdings, believes Musk has a point — opining that large marketers employ a double standard in reacting to Musk’s combative rhetoric and his “free speech” stance. Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation is an investor in X.

“I thought @elonmusk’s interview with @andrewrsorkin was one of the great interviews ever,” Ackman wrote in a post on X Thursday evening, referring to Musk’s appearance the New York Times’ DealBook Summit. “Musk is a free speech absolutist which I respect. I think he is entirely correct that he and @X are treated unfairly and inconsistently by advertisers.”

Ackman also wrote, “To use a Muskism, Earth is fortunate that @X is owned by an individual that is largely insulated from financial and other influence.” However, he added, X should possibly move to “some form of very carefully governed trust” rather than being owned and controlled by one individual. “Until then, we all should be grateful that X is owned by Musk,” Ackman said.

“Musk is targeted because the other media organizations view @X as a competitor and any time his name is in an article about controversies, it draws clicks,” the hedge fund manager wrote. Mainstream media outlets are “incentivized to attack him as it actually drives attention to their sites and therefore more revenues. It is these attack articles by other media organizations that put pressure on the @Disney’s of the world to stop advertising on X.”

Musk, at the DealBook conference, accused advertisers who pulled ads from X — over his support of an antisemitic conspiracy theory — of “blackmail.” “If somebody’s going to try to blackmail me with advertising? Blackmail me with money? Go fuck yourself. Go. Fuck. Yourself. Is that clear?” Musk said. He called out Disney CEO Bob Iger, who earlier at the conference had said the tech mogul’s comment made a partnership with X “not necessarily a positive one for us.” Asked about Iger’s remarks, Musk said, “Hey Bob, if you’re in the audience, that’s how I feel — don’t advertise.”

In Ackman’s view, “If Bob Iger would carefully examine the facts, he would likely continue to advertise on X, but Disney caves to public pressure rather than do the right thing. Meanwhile Disney invests heavily on TikTok, likely alongside videos of kids teaching other teenagers to be anorexic and worse.” Ackman, referring to activist investor Nelson Peltz planned proxy fight to shake up Disney’s board, wrote, “I am sure Nelson Peltz can fix this when he joins the Disney board.”

According to Ackman, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and others “have enormous amounts of problematic content, antisemitic and otherwise, but the advertisers don’t boycott those platforms.”

Of course, there’s a significant difference between hateful content appearing on a social platform — and the owner of such a platform personally promoting such material. It’s not the first time Musk has been identified as promoting antisemitic tropes: In May 2023, he wrote on Twitter, “Soros reminds me of Magneto,” comparing billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros to the Jewish supervillain from Marvel’s X-Men series. Musk said Soros, like Magneto, “wants to erode the very fabric of civilization.” Meanwhile, Musk last month, in response to someone who posted on X that “Everyone is allowed to be proud of their race, except for white people, because we’ve been brainwashed into believing that our history was somehow ‘worse’ than that of other races,” said that was “super messed up” and added, “Time for this nonsense to end and shame ANYONE who perpetuates these lies!”

After Musk’s “go fuck yourself” remarks, X CEO Linda Yaccarino engaged in damage control — thanking X’s remaining advertisers who “believe in our meaningful work.” She wrote in a post that “X is enabling an information independence that’s uncomfortable for some people.” Yaccarino previously was head of ad sales at NBCUniversal, which has halted spending on X along with parent company Comcast and others including Disney, Apple, IBM, Paramount, Warner Bros. Discovery and Lionsgate.

During his DealBook appearance, Musk apologized for posting “You have said the actual truth” to a person on X who had in a now-deleted post promoted the conspiracy theory that Jewish communities “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” Musk said what he intended to mean is that persecuted groups funded by Jewish organizations were calling for attacks on Jewish people and that “it’s unwise to support groups that want your annihilation.”

Ackman, in his post Thursday, said it was clear to him “that Musk did not have antisemitic intent when he responded with the ‘actual truth’ tweet, and further clarified thereafter.” Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation is an investor in X “in support of free speech,” he said, having taken a $10 million stake when Musk took Twitter private. “Whether we make a profit on our investment is not important to us as we never intend to sell our interest.”

Musk quoted Ackman’s post and commented, “Thank you.”

Ackman currently has a net worth of $3.7 billion, per Forbes. In April 2022, Ackman’s Pershing Square Holdings sold its entire stake of Netflix shares, taking a loss of about $400 million, after the streamer reported an unexpected subscriber loss. Since then, Netflix’s stock has more than doubled in value.

Pictured above: Elon Musk, Bill Ackman


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