He’s not wrong that Twitter’s business is a mess; But it seems to be making things worse
If you thought Elon Musk’s approach to buying Twitter was chaotic, the two weeks since Musk took over the social media company have been quite a mess, as his Twitter plans have been up and down. Fiercely like a fish on a hook.
At first I had some hope that Musk’s messy approach would ease up as he settled into the role; His other companies also went through periods of severe upheaval. But the latest zigzags and zigzags suggest something very wrong with what the world’s richest man is doing on Twitter.
And he’s now infuriating the nation’s largest privacy regulator, the Federal Trade Commission. Three Twitter executives responsible for privacy and information security resigned Wednesday.
According to The Verge, the company’s lawyer warned fellow employees that Musk’s urgency to push changes to the service could violate a consent order that Twitter signed with the FTC due to previous security holes. Violations of the decree could result in fines of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on Twitter.
“We are following recent developments on Twitter with deep concern,” a spokesperson for the Federal Trade Commission said in a statement Thursday. “No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our approval decisions. Our amended consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are ready to use them.”
Musk’s desperation over his expensive new toy was evident in the first email he sent to employees since the takeover. “The economic picture ahead is dire,” he wrote on Wednesday. Tell them it’s essential for Twitter to start making money selling subscriptions in addition to its traditional advertising activity.
He’s not wrong that Twitter’s business is a mess. But it seems to be making matters worse.
In seemingly every move he takes, Musk faces long-standing difficulties that Twitter and other social media companies have developed ways to manage — but that Musk, in his eagerness to do everything differently, gave it up without a second thought.
Consider everything he did – and then undo it – in no time at all. Within days of taking office, he laid off about half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees — and then immediately began trying to rehire some indispensable workers. He promised advertisers he valued their work and said he was concerned about social media spreading hate and partisan divisions — then spread a hateful and divisive conspiracy theory and threatened “thermonuclear name and shame” advertisers seeking the hills.
He told Tesla shareholders he wouldn’t sell any more shares to fund Twitter’s venture — but revealed on Tuesday that he had recently sold about $4 billion in stock.
Before Thursday’s chaos, Musk’s confusion seemed to reach its absurd peak Wednesday morning, when Twitter began rolling out a new set of verification badges for big brands, media organizations, and some high-profile individual Twitter users. Within hours, Musk announced that he had killed the offering. It was probably the most unfortunate and short-lived flagship product launch since Amazon tried to make a phone.
The saga exposes the deep confusion that baffles Musk’s entire approach to his new company. It shows the emptiness of his plan: Musk says he wants to make Twitter a reliable source of information and a haven from online toxicity, a place where “comedies are now legal” and “Flying is free” but also doesn’t feel like “free hell’s amusements for all.”
This is tough, but made longer by Musk’s apparent reluctance and need to be liked – he wants to create the nirvana of social networking without having to make any hard choices about what kind of content the network should allow, refuse, promote or restrict.
For years, Twitter has provided some accounts with a blue and white checkmark as a symbol of authenticity. Although its process was far from transparent, the company added check marks to the accounts of journalists, politicians, celebrities, brands and others to signify that they were really what they claimed to be. How can you be sure, for example, that @fmanjoo was really the Twitter profile of the newspaper’s beloved columnist? because of the check mark.
But the check mark also serves as a kind of separation mark on Twitter, and Musk and his co-authors argue that blue checks have given some Twitter users unearned status. He pitched his $8 per month plan as a way to add equality sensitivity to Twitter (and, of course, to make money).
The “blue checks” – a term that has become an ironic designation for outlying “elites” – no longer get special treatment from the social network. Now everyone will have to pay to stay verified, Musk told Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a left-wing congressman from New York, in a tweet.
The problem was that Musk’s plan to charge the check mark threatened to spoil the authenticity. If anyone can pay for verification, doesn’t that actually mean no one has been verified? What if someone pays $8 for a check and then claims to be Farhad Manju – how will you tell Farhad who you trust?
Thus the second set of badges. Esther Crawford, a Twitter CEO, announced Tuesday that the company has developed a new tag — gray checkmarks labeled “Official” – to truly distinguish original accounts from those that just paid for the checkmark. The new designation will be given at Twitter’s discretion to “select accounts,” she tweeted, and people won’t be able to buy them.
Among the first accounts to receive official designation were news organizations such as The New York Times, government accounts, brands and some politicians. Even Ocasio-Cortez got the official check.
Of course, the new check effectively undermined the paid check – if Twitter were to mark some accounts as official without charging a label fee, what’s the point of paying your account to hold a checkmark indicating official status?
the correct; There was no point. After announcing the end of the official scrutiny, Musk tweeted what came closest to an apology for him: “Please note Twitter is going to do a lot of stupid things in the coming months. We’ll keep what works and change what doesn’t.”
Twitter was far from a perfect company before Musk bought it. Her last profitable year (and one of her only profitable years) was 2019; In July, in its last quarterly earnings report as a public company, the company reported a net loss of $270 million.
As concerned as it was, Twitter wasn’t a clown show – it demonstrated basic competence in running its service, and advertisers and users didn’t have to worry about a daily blast.
In the past two decades, web companies have developed a lot of ways to test new features on small groups of users before coming up with potentially disruptive ideas for the entire service; If Musk hadn’t fired half of Twitter’s employees, he might have extracted some from this. He could have made the changes more deliberately, with much better communication with users, advertisers, and employees. (Like a certain former president, Musk has a bad habit of managing Twitter through tweets.)
However, in the spirit of admitting stupid mistakes, I must conclude by noting my bad call. In April, after Musk debuted on Twitter, I wrote a column mocking the panic that said it would be the death of Twitter. I pointed out that he was a brilliant technical CEO; How bad can it be to manage Twitter?
Answer: Much worse than I could have imagined.
This article originally appeared in the New York Times.
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