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Twitter Under Elon Musk Still Has to Live in Apple’s World

A short-lived “war” against the smartphone maker revealed who really holds power in the modern tech industry.

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Illustration: Charles Desmarais for Bloomberg Businessweek

If you run a large media company, and if that media company makes 90% of its revenue from advertising, a good baseline goal is to not alienate companies that buy the most ads.

Elon Musk, on the other hand, used his first few days on the job as chief executive officer of Twitter Inc. to post conspiracy theories, goof around with an antisemitic rapper and generally do everything in his power to make the app unattractive to marketers. Advertisers responded, predictably, by pausing their campaigns. Musk then threatened to sic his fanboys on them, via “thermonuclear name and shame.” He suggested that advertisers who’d quit spending money on Twitter—a group that includes Pfizer, General Motors and United Airlines—were bowing to “activists,” who are “trying to destroy free speech in America.” As the Financial Times reported, he followed up by personally calling the CEOs of big advertisers “in order to berate them,” which caused some to further cut their spending.