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Elon Musk says Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter

The Twitter logo is seen on a cellphone
Elon Musk said Apple has cut back its advertising on Twitter and threatened to pull the social network from its app store, suggesting a fight is brewing between the two tech companies.
(Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)
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Elon Musk said that Apple Inc. has cut back its advertising on Twitter Inc. and even threatened to withhold the social network from its app store, suggesting that a fight is brewing between the two companies.

“Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter,” Musk tweeted Monday. “Do they hate free speech in America?” He then posted again and included the Twitter account of Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook: “What’s going on here?”

A few minutes later, he claimed that Apple might boot Twitter from its app store “but won’t tell us why.”

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A decision by Apple to pull back on Twitter ads would be a major blow for the social network, which Musk acquired last month for $44 billion. The iPhone maker was consistently one of the top advertisers on Twitter, which had an entire team of employees dedicated to helping maintain the relationship, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Despite Musk’s tweet, Twitter users said Monday that they were still seeing Apple advertising in their feeds.

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A person familiar with the matter confirmed that Apple has pared back its Twitter ads. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company holds meetings with Twitter to discuss various issues — roughly once a week — just as it does with other major social networking apps, including Facebook and Instagram.

A number of large companies have paused their ads on Twitter since Musk took over the company. The exodus included General Mills Inc. and Pfizer Inc., and the billionaire acknowledged that the defections led to a “massive drop” in revenue.

Since the takeover, Musk has cut thousands of jobs at Twitter, raising concerns that the platform won’t be able to combat hate speech and misinformation. A new approach to verifying accounts also opened the door to trolls impersonating major brands, as well as Musk himself.

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Twitter’s relationship with Apple is particularly significant because the tech giant’s app store is one of the main ways that people get on the social network.

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Phil Schiller, the longtime Apple executive who oversees the app store, deleted his Twitter account after Musk reinstated the account of former President Trump, who had been booted from the platform in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Cook has continued to use Twitter personally since Musk’s acquisition. He posted a Thanksgiving message last week “wishing everyone a joyful day.”

Musk has previously tweeted that if Twitter is removed from Apple’s and Google’s app stores, he will make an alternative phone that can work with the platform.

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The world’s richest person, who also runs Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, has said that his mission at Twitter is maximizing free speech. He frequently uses his personal account, which has more than 119 million followers, to criticize perceived adversaries and the mainstream media.

Musk has said before that Apple charges exorbitant fees on in-app purchases, and he renewed that line of attack Monday. He posted a meme that suggested he would rather “go to war” than pay the company’s 30% commission.

The meme signals that Musk could be considering taking the path of Epic Games Inc. and sidestepping Apple’s fees. When Epic made such a move, Apple removed the hit game “Fortnite,” sparking a multiyear lawsuit.

But if Musk wanted to start selling the Twitter Blue subscription service through the web — bypassing Apple’s 30% — he could already do so. The app store allows services available on multiple platforms to use that approach.

The issue would be if Twitter advertised the workaround within its app or added a button directing users to the web payment option. That move could risk getting Twitter bumped from the app store.

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In another tweet, Musk suggested that Apple has made demands on Twitter’s content moderation. He also posted a yes-no survey: “Apple should publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers.”

Apple has strict rules for its app store that limit objectionable content, including discriminatory content related to religion, race and sexual orientation. It also restricts overly realistic violence and pornographic material.

Apple and Google have previously removed social networks, including Parler, from their platforms because of inadequate content moderation. In the case of Parler, the app was ultimately restored to both app stores after the social network followed a series of steps to ensure it was moderating content.

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