Elon Musk's Latest Twitter Poll Puts Advertisers On The Spot

The latest in Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter and all the drama pertaining thereto is a poll the new CEO threw up, ostensibly for Twitter advertisers. As is characteristic of all genuine, good-faith polls, one option is a universally agreed upon good, one is a negative buzzword, and the latter has scare quotes around it. The "free speech" option is winning by a large margin at the time of writing.

Thus far, despite roiling discontent from some Twitter diehards — and in fairness, Twitter diehards are known to get roilingly discontented about almost anything – there has been minimal backlash from advertisers regarding Twitter's change in ownership. Despite significant staffing changes and potentially serious changes in policy, Twitter advertisers have on the whole seemingly accepted the goings-on as understandable unrest to be expected when a major media outlet changes hands. 

In light of that, advertisers may not appreciate the new poll, which seemingly puts them in the spotlight and asks them to pick a side — something that also seems to contradict the open letter he wrote to advertisers in late October. It's difficult not to interpret the poll as a test for whether advertisers at companies watching Twitter's transformation will fall into step with Musk's political views in their business on Twitter going forward. 

Freedom and its discontents

Before we begin, let's be absolutely clear: Twitter belongs to Elon Musk. He is both the owner and the CEO. He can wake up tomorrow, fire everybody (barring prior legal restraint), and strip out the headquarters to install a dodgeball court if he wants. That's his legal right, and it's not in dispute.

What is in dispute is the value of having a public presence on a platform when the CEO comes into an open forum and demands to be pandered to. Everyone thinks they're in favor of free speech, but everyone also has a line they won't cross, whether it's Donald Trump's old tweets or all the racist trolling that followed Elon Musk's Twitter takeover. We know Musk has that line — he just finished banning thousands of those accounts, with more on the horizon. Was that "political correctness?" Did he take away those users' free speech?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn't matter. Money hates to take sides. As Elon Musk wades deeper into the muck of the culture war, more businesses will start asking serious questions about the value of their Twitter presence. Whichever poll buzzword General Motors may click today, it has to sell cars in red and blue states tomorrow. Putting advertisers on the spot in this manner is a no-win scenario, and doing that to your colleagues just isn't good business.