In Elon Musk’s vision, Twitter should become a beacon of freedom of expression. But now she is in danger. With Apple, one of the company’s most important advertisers is standing in the way. And that might be Musk’s least problem.
A huge marketplace of ideas where everyone can freely express their opinion and be heard – this is how Elon Musk imagines the ideal image of the short message service Twitter he has just bought. In practice, however, the total freedom of opinion leads to a noticeable headwind. And of all things, the most valuable company in the world could become an unsolvable problem for Musk.
He made his anger with Apple public, of course via his Twitter account. “Apple has largely stopped advertising on Twitter,” he said. To then immediately speculate provocatively about possible motives: “Do you hate freedom of expression in America?” This was followed by a poll asking whether Apple should make all of its “censorship measures” public.
The fear of advertisers
Although the allegations are harsh, they are not entirely unfounded. Apple and other advertisers were unenthusiastic about Musk’s vision of unregulated freedom of speech. Shortly after the takeover, there were clear recommendations in the advertising industry to at least pause advertising on Twitter. The fear: The extremely broad interpretation of freedom of expression would also increase the number of extremist, offensive or otherwise problematic content. And very few advertisers want to see their ads in such an environment.
In fact, Apple should also be concerned with this problem. “They say they want to continue moderating the content,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in an interview on Twitter in mid-November. “And I’m counting on them to do that.” Shortly thereafter, Musk then announced that he would not only allow celebrities like Kanye West or Donald Trump who were blocked for provocative and abusive statements back onto the platform, but even considered an extensive general amnesty for blocked users and had it voted on.
Musk has his sights set on Apple
It is certainly no coincidence that Musk, of all the many boycotting advertisers, publicly addresses Apple. The iPhone maker is said to spend around $100 million a year on Twitter alone from its advertising budget. Considering that Twitter only had revenues of five billion dollars last year, Apple’s advertising brake is a sensitive loss. Especially since Musk’s financing for the purchase caused the often loss-making group to pay billions in interest, making the situation even worse.
But there’s more to Musk than that. In addition to drastic austerity measures, a subscription fee for Twitter should finally bring the financial turnaround. Here, too, he clashes with Apple. Like its competitor Google, the group charges a fee of 30 percent when subscriptions or other purchases are made via the app stores operated by the groups. Since Twitter is mainly used via apps, this should significantly reduce income from Twitter subscriptions. That’s “a hidden tax for the internet,” Musk raged accordingly.
If push comes to shove, Musk could still yearn for that internet levy. Musk announced on Twitter on Monday that Apple had threatened Twitter to remove the app entirely from the App Store. That would be a severe blow to the short message service. The iPhone has a market share of 54 percent in the USA, which is enormously important for the advertising industry. Although the app is not deleted from existing devices when it is kicked out, updates or a new installation are made impossible. Considering that Musk is about to rebuild Twitter, getting kicked out would be an almost insurmountable hurdle.
It is well known that Apple is willing to deny access to apps. The forum app Parler, which is popular with US right-wingers, was also removed from the App Store due to moderation problems, and the “Infowars” app by right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has also been banned for two years. Musk recently received a warning: After ten years of active use of Twitter, senior Apple manager Phil Schiller deleted his account on the platform a few days ago. He is responsible for the App Store.
The dark side of freedom of speech
In view of the latest news, it seems increasingly unlikely that Musk can still save the situation. After Twitter fired almost three quarters of its workforce through layoffs and other measures, the short message service is running in emergency mode. Now the media reports are piling up on how much the moderation suffers. According to information from “Wired”, only one employee is said to have remained from a team that enforced the rules against child abuse on Twitter in Asia. In Japan alone, the group has 59 million users.
The Chinese government is said to be actively exploiting the lack of moderation. In order to suppress reports on the protests against the harsh Covid measures, pro-government accounts have flooded the relevant hashtags with escort advertising and pornographic material in recent days. A clear message came from the EU because of similar fears: If Twitter does not meet its legal obligations and allows disinformation and propaganda on the site without moderation, fines running into the millions are conceivable, warned EU Commissioner Vera Jourova in “Focus”.
Compared to an Apple ejection, that would be a minor problem. Musk, in his well-known wide-legged manner, has already announced a plan if Apple and Google should throw him out of their own app stores. He then simply wants to tackle what Microsoft and Amazon have already failed to do. He hopes it doesn’t come to that, he wrote on Twitter on Friday. “If there is no other choice, then I’ll just build an alternative smartphone.”
Sources: Twitter, 9to5mac, Wired, Statista