Twitter

A Musk-Twitter recap: $8 fees, the Pelosi mis-tweet, and all else you need to know 

Gelo Gonzales
A Musk-Twitter recap: $8 fees, the Pelosi mis-tweet, and all else you need to know 

ELON MUSK. Elon Musk's Twitter account is seen on a smartphone in front of the Twitter logo in this photo illustration taken, April 15, 2022

Dado Ruvic/Reuters

It's been quite a week at Twitter, with Musk having taken over. Here's a recap of his key moves.

MANILA, Philippines – It’s been a little over a week since Elon Musk officially purchased Twitter for $44 billion – and what a week it has been. With a new owner comes news of change – fast and furious they seem to come, almost the opposite of the head-twisting, belabored year-long process of Musk buying, not-buying, then eventually actually buying Twitter. 

Musk is as incendiary as Big Tech CEOs come, with Trump-like tendencies to tweet without restraint, at times, spreading conspiracy theories such as the one he pushed out about the attack on US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul. Musk tweeted, as a reply to a post by Hillary Clinton, and later deleted the tweet from a site called Santa Monica Observer, the same site that published in 2016 a fake story about how Hillary Clinton is actually dead, and appearances at that time were of a body double. 

TV host Jimmy Kimmel had a lurid description of Musk as well, over his sharing of the Santa Monica Observer page:

NPR described it as “a fringe website with a history of publishing false stories, which makes lurid claims about the attack without evidence.”

Musk’s act of sharing an article from the problematic website alarmed many for this was supposed to be the man at the helm of one of the largest platforms in the current online information ecosystem. 

Here’s everything else big that has happened in Musk’s first week as Twitter owner, and eventually, CEO. 

Musk fired one of the top executives responsible for kicking Trump off the platform

Former CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, head of legal and policy Vijaya Gadde, and general counsel Sean Edgett were the first heads to roll, fired on Thursday, October 27, US time. 

Gadde, an 11-year Twitter veteran, led the team that was eventually responsible for banning former president Donald Trump, in the aftermath of the January 6 US Capitol riot. The Trust and Safety team is responsible for banning users, and is a team that reported to Gadde. The decision was reportedly made while CEO Jack Dorsey was vacationing on a private island. 

Musk in May 2022 had said that banning Trump was a “morally bad decision.”

Yahoo! has a list of all the executives fired so far.

Musk has also named himself the CEO of Twitter. He is also currently the CEO of Tesla, rocket company SpaceX, brain-chip startup Neuralink, and tunneling firm the Boring Company.

Want that blue checkmark? That would be $8 please. 

Perhaps Musk’s most eyebrow-raising proposed change this week: an $8 monthly charge to be a verified user, plus benefits such as ad reduction, priority in replies and mentions, and ability to post long video and audio. 

The blue checkmark is reserved for accounts “of public interest” that are “authentic, notable, and active.” It indicated some manner of authoritativeness, expertise, or reach. Many journalists, for instance, are blue-checked.

Details are still scarce, but Musk, according to his current tweets, will be changing this to open it up to anyone who’s willing to pay. Equate the badge to money, and what will it be really worth then to people (other than Twitter which stands to profit) beyond the $8 it costs an individual monthly? 

Journalists warned of its implications, in a piece compiling reactions by Interaksyon. “Congratulations for legitimizing the disinformation network for the small price of $8 a month,” Rappler reporter Lian Buan said.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen had an important question for the obscenely rich Elon Musk: 

https://twitter.com/marvicleonen/status/1587589404717371393

US Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed a similar sentiment, tweeting “Lmao at a billionaire earnestly trying to sell people on the idea that ‘free speech’ is actually a $8/mo subscription plan.”

Musk who at the time of writing has changed his Twitter bio from “Chief Twit” to Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator” jabbed back at Ocasio-Cortez: “Your feedback is appreciated, now pay $8.”

Novelist Stephen King objected to fees regarding the verification mark as well, although his was a reaction to the older news about the feature costing $20.

Racist slurs spread immediately after Musk’s takeover 

Variety reported on October 30 that instances of the n-word on Twitter increased by almost 500% in a 12-hour period over the previous average after Musk’s acquisition, according to Princeton-based Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI).

Twitter’s head of safety and integrity Yoel Roth countered that policies against hateful conduct and hate speech remain the same, and said that about 50,000 mentions of the “particular slur”  came from just 300 inauthentic accounts. 

The Washington Post reported increases in misogynistic, anti-trans, and anti-LGBTQ posts as well.

One explanation the NCRI’s Alex Goldenberg, lead intelligence analyst, provides is that groups may be testing the limits of moderation, as they regularly do. With Musk, who calls himself a “free speech absolutist,” groups may be “seeking to give Elon Musk all he can handle” and trying to “make as big a mess as possible for Twitter’s new management.”  

NBA star LeBron James expressed worry, tweeting, “I dont know Elon Musk and, tbh, I could care less who owns twitter.  But I will say that if this is true, I hope he and his people take this very seriously because this is scary AF.  So many damn unfit people saying hate speech is free speech.” 

Musk has proposed putting up a “content moderation council” as well, prompting a reply from Facebook’s oversight board, saying it is willing to work with Twitter.

The advertising backlash

Musk has several proposals to make Twitter profitable including the $8 blue mark subscription, and another called a “Paywalled Video” which lets content creators charge for video posts, with Twitter taking a cut. Musk has motivation to make Twitter as profitable as possible, most as billionaires are wont to do with their businesses. But Twitter’s case is even more urgent as Musk overpaid for Twitter at $44 billion, putting him and investors in debt and are looking at a yearly debt interest of $1 billion. 

Yet, Musk is facing a problem with advertisers who are averse towards controversy, and have expressed concern over hate speech increasing on the platform with Musk at the helm. 

For his part, Musk has promised advertisers that he would keep Twitter from turning into a “free-for-all hellscape.” At least one advertiser this week is reported to be asking for details on how he plans to clamp down on disinformation, with Musk’s aforementioned tweet on Paul Pelosi being a point of concern itself. 

Reuters reported that Musk had tweeted in 2019 about how he disliked advertising but Musk must now court them as advertising contributes about 90% of Twitter’s revenue. Reuters said that Musk spent “his first week as CEO in New York, with venture capitalist friends joining him in meetings to reassure companies that contribute more than $5 billion annually to Twitter.”

“Unless Elon hires new leaders committed to keeping this ‘free’ platform safe from hate speech, it’s not a platform brands can/should advertise on,” said Allie Wassum, global director of social and integrated media for Jordan shoe brand, which is owned by Nike, in a post on Linkedin.

Forbes reported that companies such as food company General Mills, pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, carmakers Audi, Volkswagen, Ford, and General Motors, and Oreo maker Mondelez International have stopped advertising on the platform. Ad agencies Interpublic Group, which handles Nintendo and US pharmacy chain CVS, and Havas Media have advised clients to pause Twitter ads as well. 

Mass layoffs 

Bloomberg first reported on November 3 that Twitter will be cutting 50% of its workforce or about 3,700 jobs. 

Some leaders and personnel heads in the company have been asked to provide a list of who to lay off, with the target headcount reduction rate of 50%. Individuals in the list were ranked with consideration to each individual’s contribution to Twitter’s code, with assessment done by personnel from both Twitter and Tesla, which Musk also owns.

In a Reuters article describing the chaos among Twitter employees right now, an employee reportedly said, “It feels like we’re working among the Gestapo.” Employees are currently being monitored, and are communicating through secure channels, with managers being forbidden from calling team meetings or communicating directly with staff. – Rappler.com 

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.