Dec 21, 2023

14 of X's worst ads in 2023

The year is coming to a close — and what a year it’s been for advertisers on X, formerly Twitter.

It was Elon Musk’s first full year as X’s ruler, a reign he marked with seemingly increasing radicalization and a decreasing interest in moderating his platform. Musk eventually brought on Linda Yaccarino as CEO to clean up his mess — specifically, to woo back the major advertisers his brand of X scared away, like Disney, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Bell Media, and Apple.

But Musk is seems committed to making this task as hard as possible. He amplified conspiracies, including one that accused the Jewish community of promoting “dialectical hatred against whites.” Musk called that one “the actual truth.”

In case they weren’t getting the message, he eventually just straight-up told advertisers: “go fuck yourself.” Wal-Mart shaded him immediately.

When big-name advertisers flee, lower quality — or even unsafe — inventory snaps up cheap placement. And with Musk throwing open the doors to any and all advertisers — while literally swearing at the large brands that previously sunk billions into Twitter — it’s no surprise that the ad scene isn’t great.

So we’ve gathered some of the most unhinged and legally dubious ads you can see on X since Yaccarino was hired to lure brands back.

AI sextortion

AI generated nudity is a disturbing new technology. Almost all deepfakes, 96%, are sexually explicit and feature women who didn’t consent to the creation of the content, according to reporting from NBC News’ Kat Tenbarge.

It’s a horrific problem. But on X, it’s a source of advertiser dollars.

X users and news outlets have been spotting ads for a company that creates these non-consensual nudes — and advocates extorting women with them:

A tweet from the Q Origins project that says "Just got an ad for AI-generated sextortion here on Twitter dot com. Excellent product you're running here, Elon! Fortune 500 advertisers will be coming back ANY DAY now." The tweet has an image of another tweet showing a woman's photo being altered to remove her clothing, with the text "undress any girl using AI, yoyo".

Weapons

From brass knuckles to batons, X also took advertiser money from companies peddling weapons that may or may not be legal, depending on where a user lives.

One even got a community note placed below it. It warned users “the item being advertised is illegal in the UK.” Nice.

COVID-19 disinformation

During the pandemic, social media platforms were — and continue to be — faced with an unrelenting wave of falsehoods about COVID-19. In response, X claims to have put in place policies that “limit amplification of misleading content.”

Accepting advertiser dollars from accounts pushing that misleading content is an interesting way of limiting amplification:

An ad from Stephen Crowder featuring falsehoods about COVID.

White supremacy

X has accepted advertiser dollars from people promoting the “14 words,” a popular white supremacist slogan.

A post from journalist Matt Binder highlighting an ad that quotes the white supremacist 14 words slogan.

Non-consensual insemination

Um, do we need to explain this one? We’d really prefer not to. Thankfully, 404 Media covered it in their article “Twitter Is Just Running Ads for Stealing Semen Now.”

Yeah.

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Twitter users noticed video ads from MakeAMom, similar to the post above.

Spicy garb

If you were looking for a … special … rag or some sexually explicit underwear, look no further than X. We found brands showcasing their X-rated products in advertisements on the website, uncensored cartoon pornography included.

Crypto scams

Elon Musk told the world last month that “none of (his) companies will ever create a crypto token.”

But what he will do, apparently, is take money from advertisers pretending he has created a crypto coin. According to Forbes, the “X Token” ad campaign “likely cost thousands of dollars.” They use Musk’s image, the X logo, and directed users to a “professional-looking website, featuring glamorous logos of Musk’s companies,” Forbes said.

They did all of this with a blue checkmark, X's supposed proof that an account is legitimate, next to their usernames:

Gambling

Different jurisdictions have different rules about whether it’s legal to advertise gambling services. The brand safety calculation, however, is a different one — which has led some publishers to proactively ban all gambling advertising from their platforms, regardless of local legality.

About 1% of adults and 2-7% of youths develop a gambling disorder, according to Yale Medicine. The consequences can be life-altering, ranging from serious financial hardship to psychological and even physiological challenges.

Here’s where X landed on this calculation, if the platform considered it at all:

Helicopter hog hunting

The title says it all. Don’t worry — the advertiser will “supply the machine guns.”

Advertisers should be able to choose what kind of content they want to be associated with. And it’s no surprise that they don’t want to stick around when a platform is full of disinformation, hate, and conspiracies.

But hey, at least these ads are labeled.

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