Twitter Safety Executives Exit as Concerns About Policing Content Grow

Twitter Safety Executives Exit as Concerns About Policing Content Grow (AFP)
Twitter Safety Executives Exit as Concerns About Policing Content Grow (AFP)


  • A.J. Brown’s departure comes after Ella Irwin, company’s head of trust and safety, left Thursday

Twitter lost a second senior executive in charge of content and safety issues, people familiar with the matter said Friday, as the Elon Musk-owned platform struggles with content-moderation controversies and advertiser skittishness.

A.J. Brown, Twitter’s head of brand safety and ad quality, has decided to leave the company, the people said. He was a top executive who has worked to assure advertisers that Twitter is a safe place for their ads.

Brown’s departure comes on the heels of the exit on Thursday of Ella Irwin, Twitter’s head of trust and safety and Brown’s direct manager, who was in charge of handling content-moderation decisions, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Their exits came in part because of a controversy over Twitter’s handling of a movie about gender issues, according to Irwin and other people familiar with the matter, the latest illustration of how questions about policing content have continued to vex the platform since Musk took it over, pledging to make it a haven for free speech.

Twitter has suffered an advertising exodus following Musk’s $44 billion takeover of the platform last year. Many companies suspended their advertising spending on the platform over fears that their ads would appear near hate speech, disinformation or other controversial content.

Brown’s departure leaves a big hole for Linda Yaccarino, Twitter’s incoming chief executive officer, to fill. Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s former ad-sales czar, has said that brand safety is a priority for advertisers nowadays, across all digital platforms.

Advertising provides the bulk of Twitter’s revenue. In 2021, the year before Musk took Twitter private, advertising accounted for nearly 90% of the company’s revenue.

Musk said at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in May that Twitter isn’t quite profitable, but could be cash-flow positive soon.

Irwin’s departure came on the same day that Musk said Twitter employees had erred in their handling of posts on “What is a Woman?" a documentary released by media company the Daily Wire that its promotional materials say “questions the logic behind a gender ideology movement that has taken aim at women and children."

Jeremy Boreing, co-founder and co-CEO of the Daily Wire, said in a series of tweets Thursday that Twitter had tried to suppress the movie by saying the content violated Twitter’s policy against misgendering.

“This was a mistake by many people at Twitter," Musk tweeted in response. “Whether or not you agree with using someone’s preferred pronouns, not doing so is at most rude and certainly breaks no laws." He added that he personally uses someone’s preferred pronouns.

Musk also tweeted Friday that the “only limit is that it will not be placed next to advertising."

Musk appeared to suggest in a tweet on Friday that there was a link between the handling of the movie and employee departures.

Asked about that Friday tweet, Irwin said in an interview that her departure was indeed related to Musk’s public criticism a day earlier. “Elon is correct that my resignation was partially related to his tweet about the Daily Wire," Irwin said.

Brown’s departure was also related to the handling of the “What is a Woman?" film, according to people familiar with the matter.

Twitter years ago specified that its policies prohibit targeted misgendering of transgender individuals. Twitter recently removed the phrase in its policy specifically referring to misgendering, raising concerns among LGBT advocates.

In an email in April, Irwin told the Journal that Twitter would “still enforce targeted misgendering and deadnaming." Deadnaming refers to using the birth names of transgender individuals who have changed their names. She also weighed in on the issue in an April tweet: “To be clear, literally no one at Twitter has said we will stop protecting trans users from abuse and harassment."

Twitter has long grappled with criticism over its decisions about what content to allow on the platform. Restrictions that prior management put on posts that it deemed to be hate speech, harassment or otherwise unacceptable material came about in part because of pressure from advertisers, who didn’t want their brands associated with controversy or abuse.

Musk’s efforts to limit such restrictions in favor of free speech have been cheered by some who said Twitter’s moderation policies were biased and subjective. But they also have reignited concerns among some advertisers about the platform’s safety.

Some people on the brand safety team also were unhappy with Twitter’s recent decision regarding a European Union disinformation-policy effort, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Thierry Breton, an EU commissioner, said last week that Twitter had withdrawn from a voluntary EU code of conduct on disinformation policies, tweeting, “You can run but you can’t hide." He said Twitter will face a legal obligation to fight disinformation under the Digital Services Act beginning Aug. 25.

The move “does not instill faith from brands that want to invest with them," said Ben Jankowski, founder of Modern Media Solutions, a media-consulting firm. Twitter “walking away from that will not help them get back advertisers who care about the environment their ads appear in," he added.

Musk has said the company plans to comply with the EU digital-services law.

Neal Thurman, co-founder of ad-industry trade group the Brand Safety Institute, said the departures would give advertisers more concern about Twitter’s commitment to brand safety. “AJ is respected in the industry. I have a very high bar for what it would take to replace his contribution," said Thurman.

Musk said at the Journal event last month that Twitter had made progress fighting hate speech and scams. He said he expects almost all advertisers will return to Twitter.

In recent months, Twitter has brought new brand-safety and suitability technology tools to the platform that allow brands to monitor tweets which appear alongside their ads. Twitter also rolled out a keyword-avoidance tool, which lets advertisers create a list of up to 1,000 keywords and avoid letting their ads appear above or below tweets containing those words.

Some advertisers said those initiatives have helped them feel that Twitter was getting a better handle on understanding what things brands need to feel comfortable about returning to the platform.

While many advertisers were happy at the improvements, many have remained on the sidelines, ad buyers said. Some brands have resumed spending on the site, such as Oreo maker Mondelez and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, the Journal reported.

Write to Suzanne Vranica at, Patience Haggin at and Alexa Corse at

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