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The Chief Embarrassment Officer of X (Formerly Twitter)
October 1, 2023

The Chief Embarrassment Officer of X (Formerly Twitter)

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Linda Yaccarino keeps being humiliated on Elon Musk’s behalf., Linda Yaccarino’s Code Conference interview was a ‘dumpster fire.’ Here’s how she became X’s chief embarrassment officer.

Nearly four months into her tenure as CEO of X—the ‘everything app’ that has to keep reminding users that it used to be a social network called Twitter—Linda Yaccarino can’t seem to fully explain what it is she’s doing there.

This week, the former NBCUniversal advertising chief made the rounds in a sphere where, one would assume, she’s long been comfortable: the mainstream media. On Wednesday, the Financial Times published a first-of-its-kind profile of Yaccarino’s X tenure, covering her working relationship with the ever-controversial owner who appointed her as CEO, Elon Musk. That same day, she appeared at Vox Media’s Code Conference as the featured speaker, sitting down for a conversation with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin about the future of X. Among other things, both media appearances made something pretty clear—that she often doesn’t know much about the decisions Musk makes and is frequently unable to explain them when pressed.

The FT piece noted that Yaccarino seemed to be ‘caught unawares’ when reporter Hannah Murphy asked her about Musk’s habit of running X entirely through his phone (her response: ‘Maybe I should take a note of what you’ve just said!’); that she had no knowledge of Musk’s November 2022 pledge to establish a ‘content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints,’ despite having stated previously that she’d closely followed the Twitter-takeover saga (‘That is news to me’); and that Yaccarino promised X was ‘expanding the safety and election teams,’ even as the Information reported later on Wednesday that Musk was cutting half of the company’s global election integrity group, including its leader.

As for the Code Conference, there was pre-interview chatter that Yaccarino might back out because of a same-day addition to the roster: Yoel Roth, the former head of Twitter’s trust and safety department and an initial Musk supporter who’d left the company after clashing with the new Chief Twit—and was forced to flee his home after Musk baselessly implied on Twitter that Roth is a pedophile. (An Axios reporter tweeted that the conference had ‘sandbagged‘ Yaccarino by booking Roth, drawing a rebuke from conference host Kara Swisher, who said the CEO ‘and her PR person knew all day and were also offered to go on before [Roth] too. … I also sent a text to her and everyone involved early this morning.’) After Roth’s appearance, Yaccarino gave an interview that was described afterward by attendees as a ‘dumpster fire’ and ‘car crash,’ according to reporters from Insider: She didn’t seem to know about Musk’s stated plans to charge X users for platform access (and asked Boorstin to repeat her question on the subject), offered inconsistent numbers regarding X’s user count, and responded to a question about an uptick of antisemitic posts on X by stating ‘everybody deserves to speak their opinion’ and claiming she had a flight to catch. Further, because she’d requested beforehand that the audience not be allowed to ask her any questions, the only interaction she had with the crowd was a rhetorical question of ‘who wouldn’t want to work under Elon Musk?’—spurring several viewers to raise their hands.

You get the picture: Wednesday, perhaps, was not the best moment in Linda Yaccarino’s oft-celebrated career. But, far from serving as an outlier or unexpected incident, the media appearances appeared to cement the one consistent motif of Yaccarino’s leadership at X—that her willingness to work with and acquiesce to Elon Musk’s whims and spur-of-the-moment decisions seems to lead more often to her humiliation than to anything else.

Intrepid followers of the Twitter 2.0 era have known this to be the case from jump. As was reported back in May, Yaccarino had been prepping for an important NBC upfronts presentation when Musk suddenly tweeted about her upcoming Twitter gig, forcing her to scramble and contain the fallout. Things didn’t improve much following that ignominious kickoff. Yaccarino has been able to make some substantive changes at the platform—renegotiating with software vendors whom Musk had neglected to pay, adopting a less troll-y approach to Twitter’s interactions with the press, reviving an advertising council at the company, speaking with clients who’d pulled back their Twitter-ad spending thanks to Musk’s embrace of hate speech—but it’s apparent Musk is mostly running the show, no matter how much Yaccarino may chafe at being referred to by outsiders as ‘CEO in name only.’ In a notorious instance, the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO tweeted in August about having a ‘very frank + productive conversation’ with Yaccarino about antisemitism on X, which was almost immediately followed up by Musk’s boosting of white supremacists’ attacks on the organization as well as his (still-unrealized) threat to sue the ADL.

Yaccarino, who has better relationships with advertisers than Musk and was brought in to help recover X’s lost ad revenue, hasn’t been able to quell concerns about whether ads will be placed next to bigoted posts—something that’s still happening rather frequently, as Media Matters has documented. And she hardly appears to have the ability to defend X or Musk in a capable manner: When Yaccarino shared a new video advertisement last week promoting X as an ‘everything app,’ she had to delete the video and reupload a new version after users pointed out that the scrolling feed used in the clip featured quite a few posts criticizing Musk.

The blunt truth is, not many seem to take Yaccarino seriously—not Musk, not his fans, not any of X’s remaining users (whatever their actual number). After her Twitter role was announced in May, Musk’s conservative acolytes cited her prior World Economic Forum experience to dismiss her as a ‘globalist’ who was about to kill off their new favorite platform . When Yaccarino sat down for a CNBC interview in August, her statement that ‘99.9 percent’ of X posts are ‘healthy’ assured basically no one. And her chipper posts about X’s bright future, set against a backdrop of escalating hate speech, have earned her only more public mockery.

In total fairness: It’s never been easy to be a prominent woman in business in any sector, forget the notoriously misogynistic world of Silicon Valley, and it’s very likely that few people could handle working directly with an impulsive Elon Musk in overseeing a still-powerful information network. But no one could fairly say that Yaccarino didn’t realize what she was getting into with X, not even Yaccarino herself. And considering the added prominence afforded by her Musk association and the intense scrutiny of X/Twitter’s new era, it may well be that this will be what ultimately defines her long, once-respected career.


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