Yeah, this is probably not the best timing.
Earlier this week, X quietly withdrew from an independent audit of its ad offerings, set to be conducted by Ernst & Young, which was another step towards X gaining Media Rating Council (MRC) brand safety credentials, a key validation of its ad systems.
MRC accreditation ensures that the methodology, and the subsequent data being provided to advertisers, is accurate and reliable, based on a full audit of the ad platform’s processes. MRC accredited platforms need to submit to an audit yearly in order to maintain their credentials, which provides extra assurance to ad partners that they are getting what they pay for with their campaigns.
But amid new controversy around its ad systems, which have reportedly seen brand promotions displayed alongside racist, anti-Semitic content in the app, X has withdrawn from the process, which had been in the works for years, stemming back to previous Twitter management.
Before the Musk takeover, Twitter had completed the initial steps towards this goal, but the transition derailed progress, and set it back on its path. Then the company cut 80% of its staff, and renamed itself as X, and it’s since been a focus of increased attention on the brand safety front, purely because to the impacts that those staff reductions are likely to have had on its capacity to monitor and address such concerns at scale.
Maybe that’s why X has opted out of an audit at this time. X has pointed to resource constraints and “ongoing technological challenges” as the reasons why it’s not currently in a position to undertake the audit process. It also doesn’t have an official head of brand safety, after the most recent appointees to that role moved on (or were moved on), though Digiday says that it has recently, potentially hired someone in a related role.
And yet, even without an MRC audit, X claims that its new approaches to moderation and brand safety are working as intended.
In a blog post published last month, X CEO Linda Yaccarino claimed that the platform currently has an “average brand safety score” of 99%, and brand suitability scores of 97%. That’s seemingly based on insights from third party measurement partners Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify, with X announcing “pre-bid adjacency controls” in partnership with IAS back in August.
Though, seemingly, you would need to work with IAS to enact this, as opposed to it being a standard ad option in the app. Which is not entirely clear in X’s documentation and overviews, that such verification is not standard, which could also mean that these safety scores are not necessarily the mean for all brands, even though its tests with IAS indicated that chosen brands were protected.
In essence, it’s unclear what level of brand safety these partnerships actually offer to regular advertisers, as opposed to big brands that enact expanded measurement. But based on reports this week, ads from big brands are indeed being displayed alongside potentially harmful content in the app, though X is challenging that assertion with new legal action.
Maybe, through this, X will be able to provide more assurance that its ad systems are working as intended. But right now, it’s got some work to do to win back advertiser trust.
An MRC audit would likely have helped, so it’s unfortunate timing for the app.