Elon Musk’s social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, blocked a nonpartisan First Amendment nonprofit from running an ad promoting a non-political, family-friendly event.
X eventually reversed course, chalking the block on Freedom Forum up to a system error.
“It’s of course good that the block was reversed, but there never should’ve been a block in the first place,” the organization’s public relations manager, Matt Fossen, told the Daily Dot.
The reversal didn’t happen until a reporter asked about the incident—despite Freedom Forum reaching out “ceaselessly” to X.
“We tried to bring it to their attention six times last week,” Fosen said Thursday. “X, for what it’s worth, they also haven’t notified us that the ads are running now … and even though they are restored, we ended up losing a week’s worth of our original advertising plans.”
Freedom Forum tried to upload an ad on Aug. 22 to promote its “1A Fest” on Sept. 9 in Washington, D.C. The ad lists live comedy, games, giveaways, free food, and more as part of the event. The nonprofit had no issues running the same ad on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
The nonpartisan Freedom Forum aims “to foster First Amendment freedoms for all” and describes its vision online of an “America where everyone knows, values and defends the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.”
In a statement, Fossen said that “everything we do is centered around educating the public—not pushing for political outcomes—and that’s reflected in how we communicate our work.”
Immediately after submitting the ad, Freedom Forum received an automated message that the ad was not allowed due to it being political content. After multiple appeals and more automated messages, X then blocked the organization from running any ads at all, Fossen said.
The ad “clearly did not cross into political territory based on their own policy,” Fossen said, “so how we were somehow caught up in that or viewed to have crossed the policy, that doesn’t make any sense to me. That’s an inscrutable reading of their own policy.”
Twitter/X had previously banned political ads from candidates and parties but announced a policy shift in late August, as advertising for the 2024 election continues to ramp up.
However, Fossen noted the shift likely did not affect X’s reversal on their ad ban because an implementation date has yet to be announced and wouldn’t affect Freedom Forum since they don’t, and wouldn’t, run political ads on the site.
“The fundamental issue is that [it] should have never been classified as a political ad to begin with,” he said.
Since taking over Twitter and rebranding it, Elon Musk has restored formerly banned accounts and promoted it as a platform for free speech.
Musk called himself a “free speech absolutist” in March 2022 and wrote in May that he is “adamant about defending free speech, even if it means losing money.”
But some of Musk’s actions—such as treating the word “cisgender” as a slur and banning some journalists (their accounts have since been restored)—have called into question his commitment to free speech.
Fossen noted that while X’s behavior did not violate Freedom Forum’s First Amendment rights in any way due to it being a private platform, “what they did is confounding given their own purported ideals and beliefs about free expression.”
“We’ll be the first to note that X is a private platform, a private company, it can do whatever it wants,” Fossen later told the Daily Dot. “But to the degree it is going to set forth policies around content and to the degree it is going to purport to care about free expression, it should be upsetting that an incident like this happened. It should be worrying to people who care about free expression that something like this was blocked.”
The Daily Dot has reached out to X for comment.
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*First Published: Sep 5, 2023, 4:07 pm CDT
Katherine Huggins is a New York-based journalist and freelance contributor to the Daily Dot’s tech and politics section. She helps cover the United Nations for the Japanese newspaper Mainichi and previously reported on the 2022 midterm elections for Marketwatch. Her work has appeared in USA Today, Forbes, OpenSecrets and more.