Elon Musk on Monday went on a tear against Apple, Twitter’s top advertiser, after he said the company threatened to block the social network from its App Store without explanation and mostly had stopped advertising on Twitter.
Elon Musk says Apple threatened to remove Twitter from App Store
If the company were to block Twitter from its App Store, new users would be unable to download the Twitter app on their iPhones and iPads, and existing users would be unable to access updates. The alleged threat adds to the advertiser pressure, staff departures and regulatory scrutiny confronting Musk as he seeks to overhaul years of Twitter policies and account suspensions in his quest to push a “free speech” agenda.
In the first quarter, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending $48 million on ads on the social network, according to a document reviewed by The Washington Post that was compiled from internal Twitter data. Apple’s spending accounted for more than 4 percent of Twitter’s revenue that quarter.
Musk sought to put pressure on the company and CEO Tim Cook in a series of tweets for pausing that spending, a pause that comes in the middle of the holiday shopping season.
Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter. Do they hate free speech in America?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2022
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
In the series of tweets, Musk sought to stoke long-running concerns and political scrutiny over Apple’s market power. He tweeted a link to a parody video that Apple foe Epic Games made in 2020 criticizing the App Store as a “monopoly.” The video is a parody of Apple’s famous “1984” Super Bowl commercial, which Epic, the maker of the Fortnite video game, released after it was kicked off Apple’s store for violating its rules on in-app payments. He also tweeted a yes or no poll, asking his more than 119 million followers whether Apple should “publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers.”
“Did you know Apple puts a secret 30% tax on everything you buy through their App Store?,” Musk tweeted, with the caption “Spoiler alert.”
Musk signaled in a meme that he intends to “go to war” with Apple.
The tweets immediately caught the attention of Washington lawmakers, who have proposed bipartisan legislation that aims to dismantle the power that Apple and Google wield through their app stores.
“This is why we need to end the App Store duopoly before the end of this year,” tweeted Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who has co-led efforts to pass antitrust legislation targeting large tech companies. “No one should have this kind of market power.”
App stores can move more quickly than regulators and politicians, who say they are scrutinizing Musk’s moves. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at Monday’s briefing that the White House was “keeping an eye on” Musk’s handling of Twitter.
“We have always been very clear that when it comes to social media platforms, it is their responsibility to make sure that when it comes to misinformation, when it comes to the hate that we’re seeing, that they take action,” Jean-Pierre said. She said that President Biden would continue to point out the responsibility that platforms have to prevent their services from being used to incite violence.
Twitter, like other companies, has warned investors in regulatory filings that the success of its services is dependent on their surviving review for compliance with App Store rules.
“Such review processes can be difficult to predict and certain decisions may harm our business,” the company wrote in a 2021 filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A former Twitter executive warned earlier this month that that assessment is an understatement and that Google and Apple’s app stores “may be the most significant check on unrestrained speech on the mainstream internet.”
“Failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic, risking Twitter’s expulsion from their app stores and making it more difficult for billions of potential users to get Twitter’s services,” Yoel Roth, the company’s former head of Trust and Safety, wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
App Store representatives regularly raised concerns about the content available on Twitter, Roth said. He cited an example of a time when a reviewer contacted the company concerned about the results that appeared when he searched for “#boobs” in the Twitter app. Another time, a reviewer asked whether a days-old tweet containing an English-language racial slur violated the company’s rules.
Apple and Google could see pressure from liberal groups and civil rights organizations to ensure that Musk’s Twitter is adhering to their policies.
“I think that both Apple and Google should not give an exception to Twitter when it comes to their terms of service and this is something that I’ve been saying since May, which is that it’s going to be advertisers and the app stores that are the fulcrum,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a left-leaning media watchdog group that has been among the organizers of the Twitter advertiser boycott.
Apple and Google have been criticized for haphazardly enforcing their app store standards. The companies faced broad backlash from conservatives following their decision to ban Parler, a social network popular with supporters of former president Donald Trump, in the fallout of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The move was a departure for Apple, which historically has reached out to developers to work with them on improving their content moderation capabilities.
Apple has promoted the App Store as a “safe and trusted place,” but it has struggled to uphold its standards. A 2019 Post review found 1,500 reports of unwanted sexual behavior, many targeting children, on popular apps in the company’s App Store.
Naomi Nix contributed to this report.