Former Twitter executive highlights challenges of new content moderation policy for advertisers

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    7th September 2023 – (New York) The implementation of X’s (previously known as Twitter) new content moderation policy, titled “Freedom of Speech, Not Reach,” posed difficulties in convincing brands that the Elon Musk-owned social media platform was a safe space for advertising, according to AJ Brown, the company’s former head of brand safety and ad quality.

    Under the new policy announced in April, X began limiting the visibility of tweets that violated its policies instead of outright removing the content from the site, as had been done previously. Brown, in his first interview since resigning in June, acknowledged the challenge of helping advertisers understand and adapt to this shift in approach.

    Explaining the concept that policy violations would no longer result in the removal of offending content proved to be a daunting task, Brown stated. The change in policy coincided with a decline in U.S. ad revenue by 60%, as highlighted by Musk, who recently appointed Linda Yaccarino, the star ad sales chief from NBCUniversal, as X’s CEO.

    During his tenure at Twitter spanning over six years, Brown built a team dedicated to preventing ads from appearing alongside unsuitable content. He has now assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer at the Brand Safety Institute (BSI), an advertising industry organization that provides certification and training for professionals in brand safety roles across various platforms, including TikTok, ad agencies such as WPP’s GroupM, and major publicly traded companies like Kroger and Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

    Brown aims to facilitate an impartial forum at the Brand Safety Institute, fostering collaboration among brand safety professionals from different advertising sectors, including ad buyers and ad space providers, enabling mutual learning and exchange of insights.

    The transition of X under Musk’s ownership has been marked by controversy. Prior to the acquisition, Musk criticized the platform for limiting free speech and displaying a politically liberal bias. Consequently, many advertisers hesitated to spend on the platform, fearing association with harmful content.

    For advertisers who had already paused spending on X, the moderation policy change raised further questions about the platform’s suitability for advertising, Brown explained.

    Brown resigned from his position following a disagreement with Musk’s decision to reverse a move by Twitter’s teams to limit the reach of a documentary on the platform due to misgendering. Despite this, Brown acknowledged feeling supported in his brand safety role by Musk and Ella Irwin, then-head of trust and safety at Twitter.

    During his tenure, Brown established partnerships with ad tech firms DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science, which provided third-party verification for advertisers to ensure appropriate ad placements. He also developed tools for brands to prevent their ads from appearing alongside posts containing specific keywords.

    While X claims that 99% of content views are of “healthy” posts, the platform faces a challenging road to regain trust with advertisers due to Musk’s controversial actions, according to an ad buyer from a major agency representing consumer brands. The buyer expressed scepticism towards X’s statements and noted a decline in spending by the agency’s clients on the platform.