On Thursday, X (formerly Twitter) displayed a pinned topic under the “What’s happening?” sidebar, visible to all users. In what’s termed a “timeline takeover,” conservative media nonprofit PragerU is utilizing the hashtag “#DETRANS” to promote its new film, which explores the stories of individuals who have detransitioned.
PragerU, despite its name, is not an academic institution but describes its mission as preserving American ideals. The organization has faced criticism for its stance on climate change and its portrayal of historical events, notably slavery.
In a press release, PragerU explained that it selected X/Twitter for this campaign because it views the platform as one of the least censored social media platforms. This choice was attributed to changes made after Elon Musk’s purchase of X, where restrictions were removed, enabling detransitioners to share their stories.
The film featured in the campaign presents the experiences of young people who initially sought gender-affirming care but have since expressed regret. PragerU has labeled this short documentary as its “most important” video; however, extensive research indicates that detransitioning is rare. A 2021 review of 27 studies involving nearly 8,000 transgender patients found that less than 1% of those who underwent gender-affirmation surgeries expressed regret.
Despite research supporting the life-saving effects of these procedures and their low regret rates, right-wing figures continue to stoke concerns about gender-affirming care for LGBTQ+ individuals. In 2023, state legislators introduced over 400 anti-trans bills.
PragerU’s campaign coincides with a challenging period for X’s advertising business. X’s CEO, Linda Yaccarino, has predicted profitability by 2024, but evidence suggests the platform’s advertising business is facing challenges. Insider Intelligence estimates that X’s ad revenue for this year will be $1.89 billion, a 54% drop from 2022. Reports from Similarweb, a market intelligence firm, indicate a decline in X’s traffic and monthly active users.
PragerU has disclosed spending $1 million in total to promote the “DETRANS” documentary, including a portion allocated to the “timeline takeover” on X. Consequently, for a prominent, all-day ad placement, X is expected to earn a maximum of 0.053% of its estimated annual ad revenue.
Although some X users have expressed opposition to PragerU’s ads, the company confirmed that these advertisements do not violate its platform guidelines.
Notably, the ad on X cannot be dismissed, even if a user has blocked PragerU’s account. Typically, X ads can be reported, but this particular one cannot be flagged.
PragerU is also running ads for its documentary on Meta and Google, albeit in less prominent positions. The organization indicated that it sought a similar “takeover” ad placement on YouTube, which is part of Google, but was denied.
A Google spokesperson, Michael Aciman, stated, “The ads in question do not violate our ads policies and are currently running across our platforms.” Google introduced a policy in 2021 that disqualifies ads related to political topics from running on the YouTube Masthead.
Since Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter (now X), the platform has been increasingly associated with his personal interests. In the past, X has banned journalists reporting on Musk, restricted links to competitor platforms, altered platform policies to censor a bot sharing public information about Musk’s private jet, and imposed sanctions on news outlets like NPR and The New York Times.
Musk has been criticized for displaying animosity toward the LGBTQ+ community. Over the past year, he has made derogatory comments about transgender individuals and revised X’s content moderation policies to allow deadnaming and misgendering. Most recently, Musk has asserted that the term “cis” is a “heterosexual slur,” reflecting changes made under his leadership regarding content moderation.