Thursday on X (Twitter), all users saw the same topic pinned under the heading “What’s happening?” lateral bar. As part of a “timeline takeover” – which gives advertisers “priority access to logged in users’ first impression of the day” – conservative non-profit media organization PragerU is promoting the hashtag “#DETRANS” to promote its new film about “stories of detransitioners”.
“PragerU chose X/Twitter specifically for this campaign because it is one of the least censored social media platforms,” the organization said. wrote in a press release. “Since Elon Musk purchased X and removed Twitter’s previously imposed restrictions, detransitioners have been able to share their stories.”
The film purports to feature young people who sought gender-affirming care, but now regret doing so. PragerU calls the short documentary “the most important” video to date, but extensive research shows that detransition is incredibly rare. In a 2021 review of 27 studies, including nearly 8,000 transgender patients, less than 1% of people who have undergone any type of gender affirmation surgery have expressed their regrets.
Despite research indicating that these procedures are often saves lives and rarely lead to regret, right-wing figures continue to sow panic around gender affirmation support for LGBTQ+ people. In 2023 alone, state legislators introduced more than 400 anti-trans bills.
The Prager U campaign comes at a difficult time for the X advertising industry. Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X complaints that the company will be profitable by 2024, but other evidence shows that the platform’s advertising business continues to suffer. Privileged information estimates that X will earn $1.89 billion from advertising this year, a 54% decrease from 2022. Reports from Similarweb, a market intelligence company, show that traffic and monthly active users have also decreased.
PragerU said it spent $1 million in total to promote the documentary “DETRANS”, part of which was devoted to its “timeline takeover” of of its estimated annual advertising revenue.
Despite the misgivings of some users on X, the company has confirmed that PragerU’s ads do not violate the platform’s guidelines.
The ad on X cannot be skipped, even if a user’s PragerU advertiser account is blocked. Generally, ads on X can be reported, but this one can’t be reported.
PragerU also advertises its documentary on Meta and Google, although in a much less visible location. The organization claimed it was seeking a similar “takeover” ad placement on YouTube, which is part of Google, but its request was denied.
“The ads in question do not violate our advertising policies and are currently serving on our platforms,” Google spokesperson Michael Aciman said. “In accordance with our YouTube advertising requirements, as of 2021, ads related to political topics cannot be served on the YouTube masthead.”
Since Musk’s purchase of Twitter (now X), the platform has served as a vehicle for his personal interests. In the past, journalists banned report on Musk, blocked connections to competing platforms, changed the platform policy to censor a bot who released public information about his private jet and pointed fingers at media outlets like NPR and the New York Times with sanctions.
Musk has demonstrated particular animosity towards the LGBTQ+ community. Over the past year, Musk has repeatedly made fun of transgender people, and even deleted an old Twitter policy which made it illegal to give transgender people the wrong name or gender. Just this week, Musk said he thought the word “cis” was a “heterosexual insult», a personal position which reflects changes made to the company’s content moderation policies under his leadership.