Elon Musk Tries to Make Nice With Advertisers at Cannes

Marc Piasecki/Getty Images
Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

One could easily be forgiven for wondering why Elon Musk was in attendance at the Cannes Lions advertising festival this week. After all, it’s been less than a year since he responded to companies pulling their ad spends from his social platform, X, by saying, “go fuck yourself.” Wherefore the sudden about-face?

And yet, there Musk was on Wednesday, speaking on stage with WPP CEO Mark Read—who wasted no time before addressing the elephant in the room.

“Welcome to the heart of the advertising industry,” Read said directly after the introductions (and after a very large crowd had lined up to see the talk) as seen in a video posted from the event. “Now, back in November, you had a message to us. You told us to sort of go fuck ourselves. So, maybe we start there.”

A light wave of laughter broke through the room, along with a smattering of applause, before Webb finished his question. “Why did you say that,” he asked Musk, “and what did you mean by that?”

Cue the backpedaling. According to Musk, he didn’t mean to say that all advertisers should go fuck themselves. Just some of them.

“It wasn’t to advertisers as a whole,” Musk said. “With respect to freedom of speech, it is important to have a goal of a free speech platform where people from a wide range of opinions can voice their views. And in some cases, there were advertisers who were insisting on censorship.”

At the end of the day, Musk said, “If we have to make a choice between censorship and money ... or free speech and losing money, we’re gonna pick the second. We’re gonna support free speech rather than agree to be censored for money, which is, I think, the right moral decision.”

Last fall, a gaggle of major companies—including Disney, Apple, IBM, Oracle, and Lionsgate—reportedly began pulling their ads from X after Musk backed an antisemitic, conspiratorial post on the platform. Soon after, during a live appearance at The New York Times’ annual DealBook Summit, Musk accused the companies of trying to “blackmail me with advertising” and dropped the “go fuck yourself” line twice for good measure.

At Cannes, Musk appeared to have chosen a new line to repeat for emphasis: “Of course,” he said multiple times, “advertisers have a right to appear next to content that they find compatible with their brands.”

What’s “not cool,” according to Musk, “is insisting that there can be no content that they disagree with on the platform.” One might argue that this seems like a very vague characterization of what originally alarmed these companies, but I digress.

For those who need a refresher, the tweet Musk re-shared that started this whole mess stated that Jewish communities “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” The post also cited an antisemitic conspiracy of “hordes of minorities” infiltrating Western countries. Musk’s two cents? As he put it at the time, “You have said the actual truth.”

During his DealBook Summit appearance, Musk said of the post, “it might be literally the worst and dumbest post I’ve ever done. And I’ve tried my best to clarify six ways from Sunday, but you know at least I think it’ll be obvious that in fact I’m far from being antisemitic.”

And yet, when asked at Cannes if he regrets any of his tweets, Musk shrugged it all off with a smirk.

“Not every post i make is a banger,” he said as the crowd laughed.

“I do shoot myself in the foot from time to time,” Musk continued. “But at least you know it’s genuine. ... I think it’s better to be real than to go through a filter.”

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