Elon Musk has claimed that Apple is curbing advertising on Twitter and threatening to “withhold” the social media platform from its App Store, as the world’s richest man locks horns with the most valuable tech company.
In a flurry of more than a dozen tweets on Monday focused on the iPhone maker, Musk wrote that Apple had “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter”, adding: “Do they hate free speech in America?”
Musk added in another tweet: “Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why.”
He also tapped into concerns from critics of Apple that the company does not give enough information about why certain apps and content are blocked from the App Store. He posted a poll to his 119mn followers asking whether “Apple should publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers”, asking in another tweet: “Who else has Apple censored?”
Responding to one developer who said they were compelled to remove some content related to Covid-19, Musk wrote: “Secret suppression of free speech by Apple. Customers were never told. What the hell is going on here?”
The tirade against Apple comes as a growing number of big brands have quietly pulled spending from the social media platform since Musk closed his deal to buy it for $44bn, amid concerns that his relaxation of Twitter’s content moderation policies will cause toxic content to proliferate.
According to data from advertising intelligence group MediaRadar, Apple has spent nearly $40mn advertising on Twitter so far this year, accounting for more than 80 per cent of its social ad spend. Other brands including Mondelez, Carlsberg, United Airlines and General Motors have also suspended advertising on the platform.
Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist”, has said that he would allow all speech on the platform as long as it is legal, although “negative/hate speech” will be “deboosted”.
As part of this, the Tesla and SpaceX chief executive is restoring most Twitter accounts that were previously banned, with Donald Trump’s account now reactivated — although the former US president has not posted since his account was restored.
The approach has fuelled speculation that Musk’s approach to content moderation could result in violations of the App Store’s guidelines, which require social media apps to “block abusive users”, let users “report offensive content” and to filter “objectionable material from being posted”.
Last year, Apple and Google temporarily banned Parler, a small app popular among conservatives and some members of the far right, from their stores after the US Capitol riots for hosting rule-breaking content.
Earlier this month, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, wrote in an opinion article in The New York Times that Twitter had started to receive calls from the Apple and Google app store teams since Musk took the helm.
For now, Twitter remains available to download on Apple’s App Store and is labelled “Editor’s Choice” for users.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
Multiple top advertising agencies and media buyers told the Financial Times last week that nearly all of the big brands they represent have paused spending on Twitter, in a blow to its $5bn-a-year business.
Musk has been antagonistic to some brands who have opted to pull spending, for example calling their chief executives to admonish them, one senior advertising agency executive said.
Apple and Musk have clashed several times over the years. In 2015, Musk called Apple the “Tesla graveyard” for underperforming employees, after the iPhone maker lured dozens of the electric vehicle pioneer’s executives with salary increases and signing bonuses as it tried to staff its secretive automotive project.
According to Tim Higgins’s history of Tesla, Power Play, Tim Cook, Apple chief executive, once enquired about the tech giant purchasing Tesla, with Musk responding that he was open to it as long as he became Apple chief executive. Cook hung up, according to the book. Apple declined to comment and Musk refuted it, saying he had never spoken directly with Cook.
Also in his tweets on Monday, Musk echoed concerns from Apple critics about its “in-app purchase” policy, in which it takes a 15-30 per cent cut of digital purchases made on the iPhone, and claims that the company abuses its market power.