Disney, Microsoft, the NBA Had Twitter Ads Next to Neo-Nazi Propaganda

  • Twitter’s relationship with advertisers has been contentious since Elon Musk’s takeover last year.
  • Brands that pulled ads over content concerns have returned to the platform since it named a new CEO.
  • But big names like Disney, the NBA, and Adobe had ads placed next to antisemitic content this week.

When former NBC Universal executive Linda Yaccarino was named Twitter’s next CEO last month, advertisers breathed a sigh of relief. 

The presence of the advertising titan, who, according to The Wrap, generated more than $100 billion in ad sales for NBC Universal during her 11-year term at the company, is calming the contentious relationship between major brands and the social media platform. But the platform may not yet be a safe place for brands after sponsored posts by Disney, Adobe, and Microsoft were pictured next to neo-Nazi propaganda this weekend.

Tension with Twitter advertisers

For months following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter last year — and his massive cuts to the site’s content moderation teams — brands including GM, Audi, and General Mills pulled ads from Twitter, citing concerns over brand safety under the new billionaire owner.

Hate speech skyrocketed on the platform, and Musk said that the brands abandoning their advertisement campaigns in droves prompted “a massive drop in revenue” for the site.

However, those same brands are returning to market their products and services on Twitter with Yaccarino at the helm. This week The Wall Street Journal reported Musk said, “almost all of the advertisers have said that they’ve either come back or they said they will come back.”

Last November, the world’s biggest advertising agency, GroupM, called ads on Twitter “high risk” for brands, citing concerns over Twitter Blue verified accounts impersonating high-profile users and Musk’s rampant staff cuts. The group removed that label last month after the announcement of Yaccarino joining the company, The Verge reported.

But the policies changed by Musk — and the skeleton crew enforcing them — haven’t changed. And Twitter may not be a safer place for major brands to advertise just yet, according to Alejandra Caraballo, a civil rights attorney and clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic.

‘They don’t seem to be taking any of this seriously’

On Friday, Caraballo noted an increase in the ads she saw on Twitter. As an extremism researcher, her observation prompted her to dig into whether those same ads were appearing on or near content posted neo-Nazi and terrorist accounts that she follows for research purposes. 

“I was seeing ads appearing on my feed right above posts from White Lives Matter California,” Caraballo told Insider, referring to an organization designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. “No ads appeared on their actual profile, but one of the things I noticed is that they had retweeted portions of ‘Europa: The Last Battle.'”

“Europa: The Last Battle” is a 2017 propaganda film that relies on antisemitic themes to claim that Jews directly caused both World Wars as part of a scheme to create the nation of Israel. The 12-hour-long film, which appears to violate Twitter’s rules against “media depicting hateful imagery,” revises history using archival footage cut with narration to argue that Hitler was trying to save Germany with his genocidal actions in WWII. 

“I noticed clips were being uploaded by verified accounts,” Caraballo said. Since Musk’s takeover, verification can now be purchased instead of granted to notable accounts. “And I wondered how prevalent this was on here, so I just decided to search for it on Twitter. Sure enough, when I was searching for it, I thought: ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ There are literal ads appearing right below all of this content.”

Ads for Disney, ESPN, the NBA, Adobe, and Microsoft appeared under the search for “Europa last battle,” depicting marketing for new software or shoes next to vitriolic white supremacist content. 


After Caraballo wrote a Twitter thread about what she’d found — and encouraged her followers to conduct the same searches to confirm it wasn’t just a fluke on her account — the ads were removed from that specific search. The next day, however, when Caraballo altered her search terms to “last battle Europa,” the ads reappeared next to the same search results.

“They appear to have restricted that specific search, and not anything else — so they haven’t moderated the actual content,” Caraballo told Insider of Twitter’s response. “This is still a neo-Nazi film that’s deeply antisemitic that is still on this site, right, racking up 1000s of views. It’s deeply distressing, and they don’t seem to be taking any of this seriously.”

Representatives for Disney, ESPN, the NBA, Adobe, and Microsoft did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Ad dollars supporting extremism

Caraballo told Insider she continued her search to find ads next to extreme content by searching both for obvious slurs and more obscure terms to see which were moderated. She found far more examples of ads next to hateful content that brands typically steer clear of. 

Typing in overt antisemitic terms including “Nazi” or “Hitler” similarly won’t propagate ads, and nor would the phrases “grooming” or “groomer,” but search the phrase “groom” and Twitter would bring up “very horrible anti-LGBTQ content alongside ads,” Caraballo noted.

“It’s just one of those things where the kind of fairly obvious things that brands would want to stay away from are obviously already flagged, but things that are more nuanced or maybe not as well known to brand safety experts, those things can slip through,” Caraballo told Insider.

She added: “It just goes to show that the site is rife with extremist content, and yet brands are returning. And I think it’s deeply concerning because it not only directly can support and fund this kind of content — especially now that you know, Twitter is rolling out payments to Blue verified users who attract viewers — but also it normalizes this, it’s spreading this kind of far-right extremist neo-Nazi propaganda to all kinds of audiences that wouldn’t have seen it before.”

The Twitter press department replied with an automated response but did not answer Insider’s request for comment.

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