In the ever-evolving landscape of social media, X’s Community Notes feature stands out as a beacon of transparency and accountability. Yet, this very tool is now under the microscope, accused of causing a substantial decline in the platform’s advertising revenue. Elon Musk, now the owner of X, claimed in a CNBC interview on May 16 that the platform suffered a $40 million loss in ad revenue due to Community Notes on advertiser posts. But let’s delve deeper into this assertion.
Empowering the digital citizenry
Community Notes was conceived as a democratic instrument, granting users a voice in the expansive digital agora that is X. This tool enables the community to challenge posts, ensuring that misinformation or deceptive content doesn’t go unchecked. For a note to be publicly visible on a post, it must garner a specific level of consensus within the community.
Once established, this consensus must be sustained for the note to remain. This design decentralizes authority, fostering a collaborative spirit among users and ensuring that only widely accepted notes remain visible.
If Musk’s claims hold water — that X lost $40 million after major advertisers faced community backlash — it suggests that a decentralized, consensus-driven user base might wield more power than anticipated. Moreover, it also raises interesting questions about the fragility of major brands that we see and recognize every day, but apparently in environments that restrict transparency and accountability. By this logic, $40 million could be the price of human–brand equality on X.
While X’s user empowerment is evident, it begs the question: How do other platforms, like Facebook and YouTube, or even traditional advertising spaces like Times Square, measure up in terms of transparency and accountability?
The advertiser’s dilemma
Apple and Uber, both major brands, have faced the brunt of community scrutiny on X, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Both companies recently saw their ad posts receive Community Notes for alleged false or misleading claims. While some brands such as Uber have retracted their ads following negative community feedback, others such as Apple have stood their ground until their brand loyalists came to the rescue. Ignoring how terrible of a day it is for the brand’s head of socials, such situations reveal the often unnoticed tug-of-war between advertisers and online communities like X.
A surge in hate speech on X, especially after Musk’s takeover, deterred advertisers from associating with the platform. Established brands, wary of Musk’s tumultuous leadership and his decision to lay off content moderators, retreated from X. This void was filled by lesser-known advertisers, often with dubious intentions. In his article on Vice, Matthew Gault underscores the rise of junk ads and dropshipping entities on X.
It’s hardly surprising that the community finds common ground in flagging deceptive posts from these advertisers. In essence, reputable brands distanced themselves from X due to Musk’s cost-cutting measures, leading to a surge in unscrupulous advertisers. This new wave of advertisers now faces scrutiny from a volunteer moderation force, which Musk paradoxically supports yet blames for the drop in ad revenue.
The political paradox
Slate offers an intriguing angle, suggesting that the consensus-driven nature of Community Notes becomes its downfall when politics enters the fray. Political posts often polarize the community, rendering the feature ineffective. The system, instead of mitigating misinformation, becomes gridlocked, unable to achieve consensus due to the divisive nature of politics. With an election on the horizon, concerns mount over X’s potential to influence public opinion and real-world outcomes.
This polarization hinders the platform’s ability to self-regulate. It also raises concerns about democratic discourse and the risk of echo chambers reinforcing divisive beliefs.
The narrative surrounding X’s Community Notes is multifaceted. While it symbolizes the potential of community-led moderation, it also reveals the challenges of scaling such a system on a platform as vast as X. The ongoing discourse underscores a pivotal challenge of our digital era: balancing user empowerment with platform integrity.