Elon Musk’s first week at Twitter: Mass firings, a blue tick subscription drama and bringing back banned users
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It feels like it could be a week to forget for Elon Musk since his acquisition of Twitter for a reported Acquisition_of_Twitter_by_Elon_Musk">£38.1 billion. The entrepreneur, known for his success with SpaceX and Tesla and for creating PayPal, vowed to unlock the untapped potential the micro-blogging platform had before his initial move to buy the company.
Even the negotiations regarding his deal to buy Twitter was marred with controversy and uncertainty. Originally, Musk wanted to back out of the deal unless Twitter demonstrated their audience analytics and proved that the majority of their user base were not bots. His rallying cries about freedom of speech on the platform also felt like a case of dog whistling for many.
Nonetheless, Musk’s acquisition of Twitter went ahead, with the now infamous video circulating of the billionaire businessman walking into Twitter’s offices with a kitchen sink, informing followers to “let that sink in.”
But it’s hardly been the smooth sailing Musk has expected; a raft of faux pas, cost cutting measures and murmurs of a subscription based “verification” process have been among the many public facing issues that the new owner had faced in the space of one week.
Musk has not shied away from the criticisms either; characteristically taken to the platform to bemoan the barbs he has faced throughout this short tenure as Twitter’s owner, Musk recently changed his Twitter bio to “Twitter Complaint Hotline Manager” and his most recent tweet telling critics “trash me all day, but it’ll cost $8.”
What are the trials and tribulations Elon Musk has faced after seven days in charge of the polarising social media platform?
Mass layoffs by email
We start with the most recent controversy that took place on November 4 at around the 9am mark US time, or for Twitter employees in the UK a not so great way to end the week at 4pm. Twitter announced that due to cost cutting measures they would be letting go of 3,700 staff from their offices around the world. By email. Shortly before the working day.
Even before the fateful emails were mass sent to employees, a number ironically took to the platform they would soon be made redundant from to give their experiences during Twitter’ Black Friday. From the experiences shared online, many revealed that despite not receiving information about their job they were locked out of Slack, Gmail and other workplace tools, giving the impression that no email would be required.
The backlash Musk faced upon the news of the mass layoffs, let alone the nature they were being conducted, led to him tweeting that “Regarding Twitter’s reduction in force, unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day. Everyone exited was offered 3 months of severance, which is 50% more than legally required.”
Some employees are now looking at civil action against Musk, citing that a lack of notice regarding their redundancy has had a detrimental effect on both their careers and personal lives.
The “blue tick” subscription drama
Twitter has reportedly been looking at a subscription model for the service in which verified users, those with the blue tick next to their name, could be available for the monthly fee of $8. This news immediately led to many accusing Musk of partiality, especially when it came to the integrity of sources in the face of misleading, or outright fake news.
Musk’s retort to the criticism saw him, once again, take to his Twitter account to explain the reasoning behind the subscription idea. “Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bull****. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.”
“This will also give Twitter a revenue stream to reward content creators. There will be a secondary tag below the name for someone who is a public figure, which is already the case for politicians. Priority in replies, mentions & search, which is essential to defeat spam/scam, the ability to post long video & audio [and] half as many ads” he continued in his thread.
One of the most immediate and well liked responses in the thread saw one user tell Musk “if anyone can buy a checkmark then the checkmark becomes useless. Create a problem and give a solution, nobody thinks the current way of getting verified sucks more than having to pay for it.”
A regular responder to Elon Musk’s Tweets, simply called Greg, wrote “Will you accept dogecoin for this?” One of the many highlights the Twitter user has had since Musk’s takeover.
Reintroducing banned users to Twitter
Perhaps one of the more polarising moments in Musk’s reign as the owner of Twitter comes from the news that those who were banned from the platform will now be welcomed back, leading to many social activists decrying such an act will once again radicalise users and create echo chambers - like those that led to the Capitol Hill riots and the rise of QAnon conspiracies.
There has been no figure so highly divisive on the platform than former President of the United States Donald Trump, who was famously permabanned (permanently ejected from the platform) from Twitter after continuously breaking guidelines regarding fake news after losing the US elections.
That led to Trump creating his own version of Twitter as a response to what he felt was his free speech being censored. This despite the widespread confirmation, including from some Trump staffers themselves, that the last US election was one of the safest to have taken place.
Trump has yet to decide if he will return to Twitter, but upon the news that Musk had taken control of the platform, the former POTUS was happy to see him in charge. However, Musk confirmed that no account will be reinstated until after the US midterm elections to avoid political interference.
Social activism driving advertisers from Twitter
In the furore that permabanned members, including Donald Trump, would be allowed to rejoin Twitter, a number of celebrities and advertisers have decided to leave the platform in protest. That has led to a significant drop in advertising revenue, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Though figures for the platform had already started to stagnate before Musk’s acquisition of the company, the increased scrutiny some brands have found themselves under from users has led to more advertisers and marketing companies leaving.
On the same day Musk revealed the reasons he had to make layoffs to cut corners, he took aim at social activism on the platform as a cause for lost revenue. “Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists” he tweeted.
“Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”
Twitter’s new content moderation plan
It was the firing of Twitter policy chief Vijaya Gadde that raised red flags regarding how content would be moderated on the platform - one of the biggest issues Twitter had faced since the rampant influx of fake news and news considered “fake news.”
Musk has made it clear that he didn’t agree with how the existing moderation systems operate; upon his ownership of the company, Gadde was one of a number of executives in charge of content moderation who was fired immediately. That came as little surprise for those who followed Musk’s path to buying the company as he publicly criticised Gedde in the run up.
That led to concerns about how content would be moderated on the platform, if at all; “Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints” Musk tweeted on October 28. “No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”
He retweeted the same threat a day later, coupled with the comment “To be super clear, we have not yet made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies”
Admission at business event the day of his mass layoffs
The very day Twitter employees were to be informed if they still had a job or not, leading to some even standing outside the San Francisco offices not knowing if they are trespassing on property or not, Musk gave a talk to a group of business investors at a gathering in a Manhattan hotel.
Lauren Hirsch, a business reporter for the New York Times’ DealBook business section, tweeting that during an interview at the Baron Investment Conference on Friday, Musk admitted that “I tried to get out of the deal! Given how the market has evolved this year, the price is on the high side."
This lends credence to the rumours that Twitter’s board of shareholders were prepared to take legal action against Musk if the sale did not take place, citing market manipulation due to Twitter stock dropping in price during the will he, won’t he acquisition of the company.