X Advertisement Takes Over Timelines to Promote Controversial Anti-Trans Film
On Thursday, X (formerly Twitter) users encountered a pinned topic labeled "What’s happening?" that was consistent for all users. As part of a "timeline takeover," allowing advertisers "priority access to logged-in users’ first impression of the day," conservative media nonprofit PragerU utilized the hashtag "#DETRANS" to promote its new film centered on "the stories of detransitioners."
PragerU, although not an actual university, states its mission as preserving American ideals. The organization has faced criticism for its stance on climate change denial and its minimization of the historical realities of slavery.
In a press release, PragerU mentioned that they chose X/Twitter specifically for this campaign because it is considered one of the least censored social media platforms, particularly since Elon Musk's acquisition of X and the removal of previous Twitter restrictions. PragerU's film features young individuals who initially sought gender-affirming care but now express regret. The organization touts this short documentary as its "most important" video, but comprehensive research indicates that detransitioning is exceedingly rare.
A 2021 review of 27 studies involving nearly 8,000 transgender patients found that less than 1% of those who underwent any type of gender-affirmation surgery expressed regret. Despite research indicating that these procedures are often life-saving and rarely lead to regret, right-wing figures continue to stoke fears about gender-affirming care for LGBTQ+ individuals. In 2023, state legislators have introduced over 400 anti-trans bills.
The PragerU campaign comes at a challenging time for X's advertising business. X CEO Linda Yaccarino predicts that the company will achieve profitability by 2024, but other evidence suggests that the platform's advertising business continues to struggle. According to Insider Intelligence, X is expected to earn $1.89 billion from ads this year, a 54% decrease from 2022.
Reports from Similarweb, a market intelligence firm, indicate that X's traffic and monthly active users have also declined. PragerU disclosed that it spent a total of $1 million to promote the "DETRANS" documentary, with a portion allocated to its "timeline takeover" on X. Consequently, for a day-long, front-and-center ad placement, X is estimated to earn a maximum of 0.053% of its annual advertising revenues.
Despite opposition from some X users, the company confirmed that PragerU's advertisements do not violate platform guidelines.
Unlike most X ads, this particular ad cannot be dismissed, even if a user has blocked PragerU's account. Typically, X ads can be reported, but this one cannot be flagged. PragerU is also advertising its documentary on Meta and Google, though in less prominent positions. The organization stated that it sought a similar "takeover" ad placement on YouTube, which is part of Google, but was declined.
Regarding Google's response, spokesperson Michael Aciman stated, "The ads in question do not violate our ads policies and are currently running across our platforms. In accordance with our YouTube ad requirements, since 2021, ads related to political topics are ineligible to run on the YouTube Masthead."
Since Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter (now X), the platform has increasingly reflected his personal interests. In the past, X has banned journalists reporting on Musk, blocked links to competitor platforms, altered platform policies to censor a bot that shared public information about his private jet, and imposed sanctions on news outlets like NPR and The New York Times.
Musk has demonstrated a particular animosity toward the LGBTQ+ community. Over the past year, he has repeatedly ridiculed transgender individuals and removed a former Twitter policy that prohibited targeted deadnaming or misgendering of transgender individuals. Recently, Musk asserted that he considers the word "cis" a "heterosexual slur," a personal stance that mirrors changes made to the company's content moderation policies under his leadership.