Elon Musk Rebuffs Advertisers Who Fled X, Touts Free Speech on Platform: ‘It’s Better to Be Real’

CANNES – As soon as the doors opened on Wednesday, a swarm of Cannes Lions’ delegates rushed into the Lumiere Theater to hear the most anticipated guest speaker of the week, Elon Musk, as the X CEO waxed poetic on AI, said X is better than newspapers and explained why he told advertisers to “go f–k yourself” last fall.

The “Exploring the New Frontiers of Innovation” session moderator Mark Read began by asking Musk — the Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink CEO and X Chief Technology Officer — why he told off advertisers in November.

“It wasn’t to the advertising world as a whole. It was more with respect to freedom of speech,” said Musk. “In some cases advertisers were taking on censorship roles. Censorship and money, or free speech and losing money. We are going to support free speech.”

Speaking to a packed crowd from the 12,000+ advertising and branding world delegates gathered this week, he pushed back on advertisers who balked at content on his platform.

“Advertisers have a right to appear next to content. That’s totally cool. What’s not cool is insisting there can be no content they disagree with on the platform. I believe in freedom of choice. A company like Red Bull will be more adventurous than some of the brands selling baby toys.”

When pressed about his own tendency to say things that are controversial, Musk said he’s just being “real.”

“If you speak freely, you will sometimes say things that are foolish. If you speak through a filter you won’t be real. It’s better to be real.”

X has lost many advertisers over content and management of X (at its nadir last fall, it was projected the platform could lose as much as $75 million in ad revenue), so Musk put on his salesman hat and sought to reassure advertisers at Cannes Lions.

“X is committed to good advertising standards,” he said. “If you want to reach the most important social media people in the world — intellectuals, writers, influencers — the X platform is the best. It reaches the most influential people in the world. If you want to reach them, X is the place to go,” he said.

Musk went a step further, saying X is a better news source than newspapers.

“X is using AI to aggregate input from millions of users. This is going to be the new model in news. To aggregate information from experts in the field into a news feed. Look at the X system,” he said. “You have tens of millions of posts. Far more than you can find in a newspaper is gathered in posts. On the X system, although people have said it’s incorrect, it’s very quickly corrected. The internet is aggregating the wisdom in the field. Experts in the field know more than reporters.”

AI has been the biggest topic at this week’s Cannes Lions, and Musk predicted even bigger changes in the field next year.

“I think it’s going to change things very fast. I think you will see quite big changes next year and quite radical changes within five years,” he said. “The companies that succeed will be the ones that most effectively use AI.”

As Google rolls out its AI Overview features and ChatGPT gains ground, Musk said he thinks AI will outdo Google as a search engine.

“It will create a significant disruption in Internet search,” he said. “If AI can provide you with better results, you will prefer that.

Contrary to some, Musk thinks AI will actually enhance creativity.

“It will enhance creativity and have a magic genie component. If you ask it, it will do it. Like I said, this is the most interesting of times,” he added.

Musk also talked about his other interests and businesses, including space exploration.

“I’m motivated by curiosity about the nature of the universe,” he said. “The goal of SpaceX is to make life multi-planetary, to expand the life of consciousness. In order to do that, we need to move people to Mars. This is a precarious situation on Earth. Our potential life span is much larger as a multi-planetary civilization.”

He laughed when asked if he was data driven. He paused for thought: “I’m not particularly data driven,” he said. “I try to mentally simulate what the end customer would like.”

He is currently focused on creating human-AI symbiosis at his company Neuralink, which puts chips into brains.

“Our first human recipient has a Neuralink implant,” he said. “We may be able to enhance human intelligence so we get to keep up with AI and create better human-AI symbiosis,” he said.

And what of AI and his own future?

“I suppose if AI likes me, it will keep me alive.”

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