Elon Musk may be luring Apple into a fight with Republicans

Tim Cook walks in the Paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of USA at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2022 in Austin, Texas.

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Over the past week, Twitter owner Elon Musk has been poking Apple, the big bear of Silicon Valley, which controls app distribution to every iPhone.

Musk has been taking aim at the iPhone maker over a number of topics, including its reduced spending on Twitter advertising and its 30% cut of all digital sales made through apps. He also accused Apple of threatening to pull the Twitter app from the App Store.

In one deleted tweet, Musk suggested he was “going to war.” In another, he asked if Apple hates free speech. Over the weekend, he mused he’d make his own smartphone.

Elon Musk is as 'wrong as you can get' on Apple criticism, says Jim Cramer

Apple has remained a sleeping bear in the face of Musk’s provocations. It has not commented, nor has CEO Tim Cook, and while its app review moderation staffers may be talking to Twitter behind the scenes over questionable content, Apple hasn’t pulled the app. In fact, Twitter got an update through app review last week.

Twitter is not that important to Apple from a business perspective. It’s just one of a vast number of apps on the App Store, and it isn’t a huge moneymaker for Apple through in-app purchases.

But on Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance, both Republicans, made remarks about Apple’s situation that show how Musk could put Apple in a tough spot.

Here’s one way it could go:

  • Musk makes a change to Twitter in order to bypass Apple’s 30% fees, such as allowing users to plug their credit cards in to the app to subscribe to Twitter Blue or other new features.
  • Apple pulls the app because of these violations.
  • Musk frames the dispute with Apple as an issue over free speech and content moderation, and Republican politicians agree.
  • Apple gets caught up in a nationwide debate over free speech and monopoly power focusing on its App Store.

How things could play out

On Tuesday, DeSantis said at a press conference that if Apple were to kick Twitter off, it would show that Apple has monopolistic power and that Congress should look into it. DeSantis framed it as an issue of free speech — many conservatives believe that social networks, including Twitter, generally discriminate against conservative viewpoints.

“You also hear reports Apple is threatening to remove Twitter from the App Store because Elon Musk is actually opening it up for free speech, and is restoring a lot of accounts that were unfairly and illegitimately suspended for putting out accurate information about Covid,” DeSantis said.

“If Apple responds to that by nuking them from the app store, I think that would be a huge, huge mistake, and it would be a really raw exercise of monopolistic power,” he continued.

Vance framed the situation similarly in a tweet, saying that if Apple pulled Twitter, “This would be the most raw exercise of monopoly power in a century, and no civilized country should allow it.”

In fact, Apple’s app review department is unlikely to pull Twitter over content. While Apple regularly bans apps over questionable content, they are rarely big brand names such as Twitter — they’re usually smaller, lesser-known apps. Apple’s rules for apps with significant user-generated content, such as Twitter, focus less on specific kinds of infringing content and more on whether the app has a content filtering system or content moderation procedures. Twitter has both, although Musk’s recent cuts to Twitter’s staff could hurt its ability to flag problem posts.

But Apple would be much more likely to pull the Twitter app if Twitter tries to cut Apple out of its platform fees.

It’s happened before. In 2020, Fortnite added a system inside its iPhone app that allowed users to buy in-game coins directly from Epic Games, cutting out the 30% of sales that Apple typically takes. Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store the same day. The episode kicked off a legal battle, which Apple won on most counts but is currently in appeals.

Google takes a similar cut for Android apps sold through its Play Store but also allows other Android app stores to exist and allows people to “sideload” apps directly onto their phones, while Apple has an exclusive lock on all iPhone app distribution.

Musk has good business reasons to pick this fight.

In particular, Musk wants Twitter to make much more money from direct subscriptions and not advertising. But Apple’s 30% cut of purchases made inside apps is a major hurdle for a company that is slashing costs and has a significant debt load.

So Musk could pull an Epic Games move and enable direct billing, spurring Apple to take action, while at the same time framing the debate around free speech. If that happened, as DeSantis suggested, perhaps Congress would start asking questions. Apple would become a football in political debates. Executives could be forced to testify or provide written responses.

At the very least, you’d have lawmakers such as Vance using the words “monopoly” and “Apple” in the same sentence. That’s a risk to Apple’s brand. Debate over these topics could reenergize pending regulation such as the Open Markets Act which threatens its control over the App Store and its significant profits.

The last time Apple pulled an app that was popular with conservatives for lack of content moderation was Parler in January 2021. It was restored in April.

In the interim, Apple faced official inquiries from Republican Sens. Ken Buck and Mike Lee about why Parler was removed from the App Store. Cook appeared on Fox News to defend the company’s decision.

Twitter is a significantly more important and well-known social network than Parler was and would grab more attention.

It’s probably most valuable for Apple if Twitter remains on the platform. The controversy-averse iPhone maker would probably like this whole Elon Musk narrative to go away.

Indeed, it could play out this way: Apple remains silent, working with Twitter behind the scenes on its app, and Musk tweets about the 30% cut when it irks him. Nothing really changes.

But Musk is unpredictable, and if he does really want to “go to war” over 30% fees, Apple could be forced into a tough spot.

Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Twitter stops policing Covid-19 misinformation under CEO Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s Twitter account displayed on a mobile with Elon Musk in the background are seen in this illustration. In Brussels – Belgium on 19 November 2022. 

Jonathan Raa | Nurphoto | Getty Images

In a recent update to its website, Twitter said that effective Nov. 23, it is no longer enforcing its Covid-19 misleading information policy.

It means the company will no longer prioritize removing or tagging misleading health information related to Covid-19.

Twitter said in December 2020 that it would begin to label and remove misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines as thousands of accounts made false claims about the coronavirus and the adverse impacts of immunizations.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk has been a vocal critic of how health officials reacted to the coronavirus pandemic. He said during the company’s first-quarter 2020 earnings call that the stay-at-home orders were “forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights.” He also said on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast in 2020 that the mortality rate of Covid-19 was much lower than health officials estimated.

Musk has committed to free speech on Twitter, which might partially explain why the change was enacted. But online safety experts have contended his approach has led to an increase in hate speech, harassment and misinformation on the platform.

Multiple civil rights groups earlier this month urged advertisers to pause advertising on Twitter after the company laid off thousands of employees, a move the groups feared would impede the company’s ability to moderate hateful and other problematic content.

Musk has claimed that hate speech impressions have decreased since October, though it is not entirely clear how Twitter has been measuring these impressions.

The change comes as technology newsletter Platformer says employees are scrambling to restore more than 62,000 suspended accounts. That figure could include some of the more than 11,000 accounts that were suspended for violating the company’s Covid-19 misinformation rules.

On Nov. 23, Musk shared a poll asking users whether Twitter should grant “general amnesty” to suspended accounts, as long as they had not engaged in “egregious spam” or broken any laws. “Yes” received 72.4% of votes, and “No” received 27.6%.

“The people have spoken,” Musk said in a tweet the next day. “Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.”‘

The poll was not scientific or immune to participation from bots.

Musk used the same Latin phrase, meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God,” on Nov. 19 to announce that former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account would be reinstated. Under previous ownership, Twitter issued a lifetime ban on Trump’s account after his promotion of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The billionaire, who is also CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, was forced to pause the initial launch of its $8 per month Twitter Blue service after users abused the system by purchasing blue checkmarks to impersonate brands and famous people. He banned some impersonators before he shut the service down, however, again raising questions about his definition of free speech.

Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Elon Musk claims Apple has threatened to remove the Twitter app

Big Technology’s Alex Kantrowitz and Platformer’s Casey Newton break down Elon Musk's issue with Apple

Twitter owner Elon Musk claimed on Monday in a series of tweets that Apple had threatened to remove the Twitter app from the App Store as part of its app review moderation process.

“Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why,” Musk tweeted.

In other tweets fired off on Monday morning, he called Apple’s App Store fees a “secret 30% tax,” and ran a poll asking if “Apple should publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers.” He also claimed that Apple has pulled most of its advertising from Twitter.

Apple’s App Store is the only way to distribute software to iPhones. If the Twitter app were pulled, the social network would lose one of its main distribution platforms, although the service is available for the web.

Elon Musk said that his company SpaceX cannot fund the Starlink service in Ukraine “indefinitely.”

Michael Gonzalez | Getty Images News | Getty Images

In addition, Apple requires iPhone app makers to pay between 15% and 30% of any digital goods sold through their apps. Musk has said one of his plans for Twitter is to raise billions of dollars from subscriptions, such as Twitter Blue, which is offered through the iPhone app. If it were to grow to Musk’s goals, Apple would collect hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Apple has faced challenges to its App Store fees and policies from companies such as Spotify and Epic Games, but Musk is no stranger to attracting worldwide attention, and may represent Apple’s biggest challenge to its control over iPhone app distribution so far.

Apple declined to comment about Musk’s tweets.

But there are signs that Apple is watching the social network closely to see if it violates any App Store policies.

Representatives for unnamed app stores, which include Apple’s App Store as well as Google Play for Android devices, reached out to Twitter earlier this month after Musk took over and the site saw a wave of hate speech, according to a New York Times op-ed by Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s former chief marketer who oversees App Review, apparently deleted his Twitter account earlier this month after Musk took over.

Phillip Shoemaker, the former head of Apple’s app review and current CEO of Identity.com, said Schiller’s move to delete his account reminded him of a company making moves to “prepare for war.” He believes that Apple’s app review department is keeping a close eye on Twitter’s content moderation under Musk to see if more questionable content, such as porn, slips through.

Apple’s recent moves are “like when you remove troops from a country before you attack,” Shoemaker said. “You’re thinking you’re going to have to pull these apps from the store.”

Where Twitter might fall afoul of Apple’s rules

There are two primary reasons why Apple’s App Store might take a closer look at Twitter under its public guidelines:

  • Apple requires apps with user-generated content such as Twitter to have strong content moderation systems in place. Insufficient content moderation was the reason why Apple booted Parler, a smaller Twitter competitor, in 2020. Musk has reportedly vastly downsized Twitter’s content moderation workforce.
  • Apple requires apps to pay fees between 30% and 15% for digital purchases. When Epic Games put in a system to get around Apple’s cut, Apple removed it. If Twitter were to pull a similar move, it might force Apple’s hand.

There are also other reasons why Twitter might fall afoul of Apple’s rules, including its insistence that adult content not be discoverable by default. Twitter remains one of the most prominent social networks that allows adult content, opening up gray areas for App Store delays or issues.

Apple’s App Store uses employees to review each app and update that goes on the platform. The app reviewers often send short responses highlighting issues without being explicit about what apps need to do to pass, CNBC previously reported.

Musk has tweaked Apple for years, and seems to enjoy doing so. He has complained about Apple’s app store fees in the past, although the Tesla app doesn’t allow in-app purchases. He has also sparred with Apple’s purported plan to build electric cars, although Apple’s secretive project has never shipped a car.

In 2015, Musk teased Apple saying that it only hires rejected Tesla employees and that he calls Apple the “Tesla Graveyard.”

But Musk’s moves on Monday go beyond teasing and rivalry, and suggest that he may be prepared to fight a lengthy public relations battle over Apple’s rules. In one tweet, he posted a meme in which a car veers off the highway under a road sign offering two choices: “Pay 30%” and “Go to war.” The car was choosing the latter option.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Phillip Shoemaker’s name.

Kids Online Safety Act may harm minors, civil society groups warn

Dozens of civil society groups urged lawmakers in a letter on Monday against passing a bill that aims to protect children from online harm, warning the bill itself could actually inflict further danger on kids and teens.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future and Wikimedia Foundation were among the groups that wrote to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Ranking Member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., opposing the Kids Online Safety Act.

The bipartisan bill, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., would establish responsibilities for sites that are likely to be accessed by kids to act in the best interest of users who are 16 or younger. That means the platforms would be responsible for mitigating the risk of physical or emotional harm to young users, including through the promotion of self-harm or suicide, encouragement of addictive behavior, enabling of online bullying or predatory marketing.

The bill would require sites to default to more private settings for users 16 and younger and limit the contacts that could connect with them. It would also require tools for parents to track the time their kids are spending on certain sites and give them access to some information about the kids’ use of the platform so that parents can address potential harm. Sites would have to let their young users know when parental tools are in effect.

The civil society groups that signed Monday’s letter, which includes several groups that advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community, warned that the tools the bill creates to protect children could actually backfire.

“KOSA would require online services to ‘prevent’ a set of harms to minors, which is effectively an instruction to employ broad content filtering to limit minors’ access to certain online content,” the groups wrote, adding that content filters used by schools in response to earlier legislation have limited resources for sex education and for LGBTQ youth.

“Online services would face substantial pressure to over-moderate, including from state Attorneys General seeking to make political points about what kind of information is appropriate for young people,” they added. “At a time when books with LGBTQ+ themes are being banned from school libraries and people providing healthcare to trans children are being accused of ‘grooming,’ KOSA would cut off another vital avenue of access to information for vulnerable youth.”

The bill has gained momentum at a time when debates over parental control of what’s taught in school, specifically as it relates to gender identity and sexual orientation, have come to the forefront due to controversial state measures like Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, also referred to by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The KOSA opponents warned that prescriptive parental controls could be harmful to kids in abusive situations.

“KOSA risks subjecting teens who are experiencing domestic violence and parental abuse to additional forms of digital surveillance and control that could prevent these vulnerable youth from reaching out for help or support,” the groups wrote. “And by creating strong incentives to filter and enable parental control over the content minors can access, KOSA could also jeopardize young people’s access to end-to-end encrypted technologies, which they depend on to access resources related to mental health and to keep their data safe from bad actors.”

The groups also fear that the bill would incentivize sites to collect even more information about children to verify their ages and place further restrictions on minors’ accounts.

“Age verification may require users to provide platforms with personally identifiable information such as date of birth and government-issued identification documents, which can threaten users’ privacy, including through the risk of data breaches, and chill their willingness to access sensitive information online because they cannot do so anonymously,” they wrote. “Rather than age-gating privacy settings and safety tools to apply only to minors, Congress should focus on ensuring that all users, regardless of age, benefit from strong privacy protections by passing comprehensive privacy legislation.”

The groups called the goals of the legislation “laudable,” but said KOSA would ultimately fall flat in its aims to protect children.

“We urge members of Congress not to move KOSA forward this session, either as a standalone bill or attached to other urgent legislation, and encourage members to work toward solutions that protect young people’s rights to privacy and access to information and their ability to seek safe and trusted spaces to communicate online,” they wrote.

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WATCH: Lawmakers grill TikTok, YouTube, Snap executives

Elon Musk says Twitter to launch ‘Verified’ service next week

Elon Musk Twitter account displayed on a phone screen and Twitter logo displayed on a screen in the background are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on November 22, 2022.

Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Elon Musk said in a tweet Friday that Twitter would launch its delayed “Verified” service next week with different colored checks depending on the type of account.

The Twitter CEO said there would be a “gold check” for companies, a grey colored one for government accounts and the existing blue one for individuals, whether they are celebrities or not.

All verified accounts will be “manually authenticated” before the check is activated, Musk said.

The billionaire called the move “Painful, but necessary”

Musk’s comments come after he was forced to pause the $8 per month Twitter Blue service, which allowed anyone to pay the subscription for the blue verification tick, after users abused the system by impersonating brands and famous people.

The CEO said Monday that Twitter would delay the relaunch of its $8 per month Blue Verified service. At the time, Musk said Twitter will “probably use [a] different color check for organizations than individuals.”

Now he has given details on what that could look like.

Musk had earlier said he planned to relaunch Twitter Blue on Nov. 29. Musk’s latest timeline puts the relaunch on Dec. 2.

Tesla shares rise on Citi upgrade, Musk talk of a new factory in Asia

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk attends the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China August 29, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

Tesla shares jumped almost 8% on Wednesday after hitting a 52-week low a day earlier. The rally followed an upgrade by analysts at Citi and an indication from Tesla CEO Elon Musk that South Korea is a top candidate for a new factory the company hopes to build in Asia.

The rebound is a respite for Tesla investors, who’ve seen the value of their holdings fall by about half this year amid a broader plunge in the market and a shift out of risky assets.

“We believe the year-to-date pullback has balanced out the near-term risk/reward,” Citi analysts wrote, raising their rating on the stock to neutral. “To become bullish from here, we’d like to gain added confidence on the average sale price/auto gross margin bridge (including tracking near-term datapoints in China and Europe) and FSD progress.”

FSD refers to what the company calls its full self-driving capability. Tesla sells driver assistance systems, including the standard Autopilot, installed in all of its new cars, and a premium FSD option. In the U.S., Tesla’s FSD currently costs $12,000 upfront or $199 per month on a subscription basis. The company doesn’t say what percentage of users choose that option or how many end their subscription.

Musk has been promising Tesla investors and customers since 2016 that his company will be able to turn its cars into self-driving vehicles capable of operating as robotaxis. However, it’s yet to deliver. Drivers using Tesla’s Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, FSD and FSD Beta systems are supposed to remain attentive to the road, with hands on the steering wheel, ready to take over the driving task at all times.

In addition to the Citi note, Musk spoke on Wednesday with South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol and expressed optimism that a new Tesla factory will eventually open in the Asian country.

The extended selloff that preceded Wednesday’s rally has come as Musk’s attention has largely turned to Twitter, which he acquired last month for $44 billion.

Some dips in Tesla shares followed massive stock sales by Musk as he liquidates in part to finance the Twitter deal. Earlier this month, Musk sold another $3.95 billion in Tesla shares, telling Twitter employees he was doing so to save the social media company.

Musk swiftly implemented mass layoffs, fired executives and tweaked important features of the platform. In response, many advertisers paused spending on Twitter campaigns indefinitely, and civil rights activists have called for further boycotts until Musk’s team proves it can manage hate speech and other harmful content on Twitter.

Some Tesla analysts and investors worry about potential spillover to the electric car company. Adam Jonas, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, wrote in a report on Wednesday that the Twitter situation could hurt consumer demand for Tesla as well as commercial deals, government relations and “capital markets support.” The firm still recommends buying Tesla shares and has a $330 price target.

The stock traded at close to $183 as of late afternoon on Wednesday.

Leo Koguan, one of the company’s largest individual shareholders, and other investors have asked for a massive stock buyback by Tesla. In a petition shared on Change.org, Tesla bull and influencer Alexandra Merz said a swift buyback would allow Tesla to “benefit from a currently very unvalued stock price,” and “act before the 1% tax on share buybacks becomes applicable on Jan 1, 2023.”

Musk has said he’s willing to do a buyback at Tesla, pending board approval. Last month, on the company’s third-quarter earnings call, Musk said Tesla is likely to do a “meaningful buyback” next year, potentially between $5 billion and $10 billion.

WATCH: Tesla upgraded by Citi

Tesla upgraded to neutral at Citi

Apple and Elon Musk’s Twitter are on a collision course

SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk takes part in a joint news conference with T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert (not pictured) at the SpaceX Starbase, in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., August 25, 2022.

Adrees Latif | Reuters

Elon Musk has announced big, albeit confusing, plans for Twitter since he took over the social network last month.

Musk wants to vastly increase the revenue the company makes through subscriptions while opening up the site to more “free speech,” which in some cases seems to mean restoring previously banned accounts like the one owned by former president Donald Trump.

But Musk’s plans for Twitter could put it in conflict with two of the biggest tech companies: Apple and Google.

Tensions are brewing

Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple Inc., speaks at an Apple event at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park on September 12, 2018 in Cupertino, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

There are signs Twitter has already seen an increase in harmful content since Musk has taken over, putting the company’s apps at risk. In October, shortly after Musk became “chief Twit,” a wave of online trolls and bigots flooded the site with hate speech and racist epithets.

The trolls organized on 4chan, then barreled into Twitter with anti-Black and Jewish epithets. Twitter suspended many of the accounts, according to the nonprofit Network Contagion Research Institute.

Musk’s plan to offer paid blue verification badges have also led to chaos and accounts impersonating major corporations and figures, which have caused some advertisers to shy away from the social network, in particular, Eli Lilly after a fake verified tweet erroneously said insulin would be provided for free.

The app stores noticed.

“And as I departed the company, the calls from the app review teams had already begun,” former Twitter head of trust and safety Yoel Roth wrote this month in the New York Times.

Fees and subscription revenue

Twitter and Apple have been partners for years. In 2011, Apple deeply integrated tweets into its iOS operating system. Tweets that function as official company communications are regularly posted under Apple CEO Tim Cook’s account. Apple has advertised new iPhones and its big launch events on Twitter.

But the relationship appears poised to change as Musk moves to generate a larger bulk of income from subscriptions.

Twitter reported $5.08 billion in revenue in 2021. If half of that comes from subscriptions in the future, as Musk has said is the goal, hundreds of millions of dollars would end up going to Apple and Google — a small amount for them, but a potentially massive hit for Twitter.

One of Apple’s main rules is that digital content — game coins, or an avatar’s outfit, or a premium subscription— that’s purchased inside an iPhone app, has to use Apple’s in-app purchasing mechanism, in which Apple bills the user directly. Apple takes 30% of sales, decreasing to 15% after a year for subscriptions, and pays the remainder to the developer.

Companies such as Epic Games, Spotify, and Match Group lobby against Apple and Google’s rules as part of the Coalition for App Fairness. Microsoft and Meta have also filed briefs in court criticizing the system and made public remarks aimed at app stores.

One option for Musk is to take an approach similar to what Spotify has done: Offer a lower $9.99 price on the web, where it doesn’t pay Apple a cut, and then users simply log in to their existing account inside the app. Users subscribing to a Premium subscription inside the iPhone app pay $12.99, effectively covering Apple’s fees.

Or Twitter could go further, like Netflix, which stopped offering subscriptions through Apple entirely in 2018.

Musk could sell Twitter Blue on the company’s website at a cheaper price and tweet to his over 118 million followers that Blue is only available on Twitter.com. It might work and could help cut Apple out of any fees.

But that also means Twitter would have to remove many options for informing users about the subscription inside the app, where they’re most likely to make a purchasing decision. And Apple has detailed rules about what apps can link to when telling users about alternative ways to pay.

As Netflix’s app says: “You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app. We know it’s a hassle.”

A power struggle over content moderation

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., speaks during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, U.S., on Monday, June 4, 2018. 

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Musk faces the power of Apple and Google and their ability to decline to approve or even pull apps that violate their rules over content moderation and harmful content.

It’s happened before. Apple said in a letter to Congress last year that it had removed over 30,000 apps from its store over objectionable content in 2020.

If app store-related problems strike Twitter, it could be “catastrophic,” according to the former Twitter head of trust and safety Roth. Twitter lists app review as a risk factor in filings with the SEC, he noted.

Apple and Google can remove apps for various reasons, like issues with an app’s security and whether it complies with the platform billing rules. And app reviews can delay release schedules and cause havoc whenever Musk wants to launch new features.

In the past few years, the app stores have started more closely scrutinizing user-generated content that starts shading into violent speech or social networks that lack content moderation.

There’s precedent for a complete ban. Apple and Google banned Parler, a much smaller and conservative-leaning site, in 2020 after posts on the site promoted the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6 and included calls for violence. In Apple’s case, the decision to ban high-profile apps is made by a group called the Executive Review Board, which is led by Schiller — the Apple executive who deleted his Twitter account over the weekend.

Although Apple approved Truth Social, Trump’s social networking app, in February, it took longer for Google Play to approve it. The company told CNBC in August that the social network lacked “effective systems for moderating user-generated content” and therefore violated Google’s Play Store terms of service. Google eventually approved the app in October, saying that apps need to “remove objectionable posts such as those that incite violence.”

Musk reportedly fired many of Twitter’s contact content moderators this month.

Apple and Google have been careful while banning apps like Parler, pointing to specific guideline violations like screenshots of the offending posts, instead of citing broad political reasons or pressure from lawmakers. On a social network as large as Twitter, it’s often possible to find content that hasn’t been flagged yet.

Still, Apple and Google are unlikely to want to wade into a difficult battle over what constitutes harmful information and what doesn’t. That could end up inviting public scrutiny and political debate. It’s possible that app stores simply delay approving new versions instead of threatening to remove apps entirely.

Future features could also irk Apple and Google and prompt a closer look at the platform’s current operations.

Musk has reportedly talked about allowing users to paywall user-generated videos — something that former employees think would lead to the feature being used for adult content, according to the Washington Post.

Apple’s App Store has never allowed pornography, a policy that dates back to the company’s founder, Steve Jobs, and Google also bans apps centered around sexual content.

Anything that isn’t safe for work needs to be hidden by default. Twitter currently allows adult content, which could put it even more directly into reviewer sights.

“Apps with user-generated content or services that end up being used primarily for pornographic content … do not belong on the App Store and may be removed without notice,” Apple’s guidelines say.

But Musk often runs towards battles, not away from them. Now he has to decide whether it’s worth taking on two of the most valuable and powerful companies in Silicon Valley over 30% fees and Twitter’s ability to host edgy tweets.

An Apple representative didn’t respond to a request for comment. A Google representative declined to comment. Twitter didn’t respond to an email and the company no longer has a communications department. Musk didn’t respond to a tweet.

Elon Musk has himself to blame for Twitter ad woes, activists say

Leaders of major civil rights groups are denying accusations made by Elon Musk, who said they broke an agreement with him by encouraging companies to halt advertising on Twitter.

Musk tweeted on Tuesday that “a large coalition of political/social activist groups agreed not to try to kill Twitter by starving us of advertising revenue if I agreed to this condition. They broke the deal.”

Musk didn’t elaborate on the agreement. He was responding to one of his followers, who accused Twitter’s new owner of lying when he promised in October that he would form a content moderation council and that “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”

Over the weekend, after running an informal poll on Twitter, Musk and the platform reinstated the account of former President Donald Trump, who was permanently expelled under previous management after the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

Twitter leadership in 2021 feared Trump’s presence and ongoing use of the site could lead to further violence as he continued to falsely claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Earlier this month, multiple civil rights groups urged advertisers to pause advertising on Twitter following a spike in hate speech on the site and after the company laid off thousands of employees, a move they feared would impede the company’s ability to moderate hateful and other problematic content.

Derrick Johnson, CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in response to Musk’s claims on Tuesday that the civil rights groups “would never make such a deal” and that “Democracy always comes first.”

“The decisions being made at Twitter are dangerous, and it is our duty, as it has been since our founding, to speak out against threats to our democracy,” Johnson said. “Hate speech and violent conspiracies can have no safe harbor.”

In a statement to CNBC, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Free Press echoed Johnson’s sentiment and said there was “no such deal” with Musk.

“Musk is losing advertisers because he’s acted irresponsibly, slashing content moderation teams that help keep brands safe and gutting the very sales teams responsible for maintaining relationships with advertisers,” the Free Press said in a statement. “The main person responsible for the Twitter advertiser exodus is Elon Musk.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told CNBC that he found Musk’s tweet “vague.” The SWC, along with 180 other nongovernmental organizations, sent a letter to Musk last week urging Twitter to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism to “degrade the marketing capabilities of antisemites on the social media platform.”

Cooper said the letter “wasn’t a threat” and that the groups didn’t “threaten any boycott” against Twitter.

“We’re basically asking Elon Musk, who we all know is a rather creative person, to take leadership in this area,” Cooper said. He said his organization has seen a noticeable increase in antisemitic content over the past two weeks.

According to Twitter internal communications obtained by CNBC, agencies and brands that paused advertising on Twitter after Musk took over the company are now waiting for updates on changes to company leadership, specifically teams working on brand safety. They also want answers to questions about how Twitter Blue verification will work in the future and how Twitter plans to prevent brand impersonation.

Under Musk’s leadership, Twitter rolled out and promptly rolled back a Twitter Blue Verified subscription service, after users who purchased the badges were able to impersonate celebrities, politicians and brands. For example, an account created in the likeness of drug company Eli Lilly published false tweets saying, “we are excited to announce insulin is free now.” The company scrambled to correct the misinformation and have the impersonator’s account suspended.

Advertisers’ concerns are not limited to the issues raised by civil rights leaders. They also wanted reassurances that Twitter will be safe from hackers, with so many employees resigning or laid off, and they’re asking for more communication from new leadership about changes to the product and company.

WATCH: Musk says Twitter Blue will relaunch on Nov. 29

Trump Media partner DWAC delays Truth Social merger

This illustration photo shows Donald Trump’s new social media app Truth Social’s logo on a smartphone in Los Angeles, February 21, 2022.

Chris Delmas | AFP | Getty Images

The blank check company that plans to take Trump Media and Technology Group and its Truth Social platform public said Tuesday that shareholders voted to delay a deadline for its merger with the former president’s firm by several months.

Shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp. rose more than 3% following a brief shareholder meeting announcing the delay. DWAC faced liquidation next month if it couldn’t get a deadline extension, although the merger faces additional legal and financial obstacles. The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing the Trump Media-DWAC deal, as are federal criminal investigators.

The company, which hasn’t generated any revenue and already has $1 billion in financing already at risk, had delayed the meeting multiple times over recent months as it worked to garner support from shareholders. DWAC needed 65% of its shareholders to approve an extension of the deadline to merge with Trump Media until September 2023. In a securities filing Monday, DWAC said there was “substantial doubt” about its ability to continue as a “going concern.”

DWAC has previously failed to get the necessary votes from its large swath of retail investors. The meeting was adjourned numerous times. DWAC CEO Patrick Orlando initiated a built-in extension with a $2.8 million contribution from his company Arc Global Investments II. 

“It’s a really arduous process when you have as many stockholders as we did,” Orlando said during an interview with IPO Edge on Tuesday immediately prior to the shareholder meeting.

Orlando has been working to drum up votes on Trump Media’s Truth Social platform, and even urged Trump Media CEO Devin Nunes and its chairman, former President Donald Trump, to help publicize the effort.

The stakes of the vote were particularly high for some of the former president’s supporters, who shared on Truth Social and Reddit that they’ve invested thousands of dollars in DWAC in a nod of support for the platform. 

If a merger were to take place, it would give hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to Trump Media. It has already faced a series of legal and financial obstacles. The deal has been the subject of a criminal probe and its delay has resulted in the loss of over $100 million in investment. 

The former president previously said he could take the company private. Internal documents have shown that Trump Media also considered mergers and partnerships with other right-wing-friendly platforms, including Rumble and Parler. 

Over the weekend, Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, reinstated Trump on the social media platform. Twitter banned Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where hundreds of his supporters rioted and disrupted lawmakers who were formally counting Electoral College votes. The former president has yet to tweet since his reinstatement.

“I would expect Truth [Social] to be the main platform for the president’s tweets, or, his truths,” Orlando said during the fireside chat Tuesday. “At Digital World, we don’t actually control anything to do with Truth and its users at this point. But we’re watching it, and we really like what we see with user engagement.”

The special purpose acquisition vehicle has also been dealing with the fallout from a Trump Media executive’s whistleblower complaint to federal regulators. William Wilkerson, a senior vice president at Trump Media, had filed a whistleblower complaint alleging securities violations in August. Wilkerson has described himself as one of the company’s founders and said he no longer believes in its viability. 

In September, the company said it lost $138.5 million of the $1 billion in financing from private investors in public equity, also known as PIPE, to fund the merger. That same month, DWAC changed its mailing address to a UPS Store in Miami. 

In recent days, DWAC lost one of its board members when Justin Shaner, CEO of Shaner Properties in South Florida, resigned, according to a securities filing.

–CNBC’s Jack Stebbins contributed to this article.

Twitter Blue relaunch delayed, may use new color checks for organizations

An image of new Twitter owner Elon Musk is seen surrounded by Twitter logos in this photo illustration in Warsaw, Poland on 08 November, 2022. 

STR | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Twitter owner Elon Musk said on Monday evening that the company is planning to delay the relaunch of its $8 per month Blue Verified service. Musk said Twitter will “probably use different color check for organizations than individuals.”

Twitter Blue was launched earlier this month but was pulled after users abused the new paid option, which Musk hoped would drive new revenue to the platform. It allowed users to pay for a Blue checkmark, previously reserved for verified users.

Musk had earlier said he planned to relaunch Twitter Blue on Nov. 29.

The paid Blue subscription service led to a plethora of pranksters creating imposter accounts on Twitter. It left the platform even more ripe for misinformation, and many cheaply acquired checkmarks were used to impersonate brands, politicians and celebrities with unflattering messages.

A user impersonating pharmaceutical giant Eli Lily, for example, tweeted “we are excited to announce insulin is free now.”

Eli Lilly’s stock price dropped sharply after the false message was posted, and so did other pharmaceutical companies including AbbVie, which was also impersonated on Twitter. At that time, major stock indices were positive, amid a market rally.

Twitter has trialed using two check marks, including a Blue one for paid and previously-verified users and a gray “Official” checkmark for some brands, such as news organizations. But there was a confusing overlap, where some accounts had both checkmarks. Musk killed the “Offical” checkmark the same day it rolled out.

The delay comes after Musk gutted much of Twitter’s staff. About half of the company’s 7,500 employees were laid off earlier this month. Then, last week, about another 1,200 full-time employees left, according to The New York Times, after Musk demanded employees commit to working “long hours at high intensity” on his vision for “Twitter 2.0” or submit their resignations.

— CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.

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