Wait, what’s happening on Twitter?
Elon finally finished the transaction to buy Twitter seemingly against his will and became its CEO. It’s only been a couple of weeks and it seems as though everything with the app and the company is in shambles already. His tweets are getting more problematic and self-absorbed by the day, and this whole story has been a nightmare to follow. But if you’re still willing to try to understand the nonsense, I’ll give you my best shot at explaining some of it.
Wait, he paid how much for Twitter?
Elon Musk is building a “super app,” and Tesla is paying for it. Musk may be the world’s richest man, but he isn’t made of money. Most of his money is in Tesla stock. So, even though he paid 44 billion dollars for Twitter, in the long term, if he doesn’t make Twitter profitable, it will compromise his position at Tesla. Also, he has been funding his Twitter venture by selling Tesla stock even after he told Tesla shareholders he was “almost done with Tesla stock sales” back in December 2021.
Wait, who still works at Twitter?
Bestie, I don’t know . . . In all seriousness, we know Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, is still there. But he’s fired a large portion of the staff, including “the former CEO Parag Agrawal, the former Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal, and the former legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde.” The second Musk took over, employees started bracing for the worst despite a lack of internal communications. Roughly 3,700 people from the 7,500 person-staff were promptly laid off. There are also about a dozen employees that have been fired because they have openly criticized Musk. In addition, key folks he hasn’t fired are resigning. It seems the workforce at Twitter is now just a shell of what it used to be. And apparently, that isn’t working because Musk has already tried to hire some people back.
Wait, so what’s happening with free speech?
Elon Musk is a loud and proud advocate of free speech, whatever that may look like to him. It seems as though, for many, it means the license to say anything, including hateful stuff. As a result, the use of racist and queerphobic slurs has increased significantly on Twitter after Musk took over. This is despite Musk tweeting, “We have actually seen hateful speech at times this week decline below our prior norms, contrary to what you may read in the press.”
Wait, if anyone can get verified, does the verification really mean anything?
No. And that’s the central issue Musk is running up against during the Twitter Blue roll-out. Anyone having the option to be verified for a monthly fee of $8 seems like an egalitarian solution, but it also means it only costs $8 to impersonate someone on the app. More on that later. So, suddenly, another set of “official” check marks people couldn’t buy was rolled out, and we were back at square one.
Wait, is anyone actually paying for Twitter Blue?
Yes, Elon Musk said, “The bird is free,” but Twitter Blue isn’t. Hopefully, this isn’t his only business plan because basic logic shows that a badly thought subscription model, that’s actually chasing away paid advertisers, will not be enough to get Twitter out of a deficit.
Wait, what are you allowed to do with your name?
Well, verification rules stopped verified accounts from being able to change their name without losing their checkmark, probably to stop impersonation. Doja Cat found this out the hard way when she changed her name to “Christmas” and realized she could no longer change it back — which prompted her to tweet, “how do I change it also fuck you elon.” I’m glad to report the issue seems to have been resolved because, at the time of writing, Doja Cat’s name on Twitter is “fart.”
Wait, who’s impersonating who?
Some users use Twitter Blue to impersonate famous people like athlete LeBron James. Others, like Kathy Griffin, used it to impersonate Elon Musk. The point of the practice was to expose the flaws in the subscription model. Users trolled Musk by tweeting things like “I am a freedom of speech absolutist and I eat doody for breakfast every day.” They also retweeted posts supporting Democrat candidates ahead of the US midterms. Given that the real Elon Musk has tweeted in support of a Republican Congress, holy moly, he did not like that. As a result, accounts that do not clearly list “parody” in their name while impersonating a celebrity are immediately suspended from the app.
Wait, whose stock is down?
The impersonation fiasco had some very real consequences for some companies. Someone used Twitter Blue to create a fake Eli Lilly account and promise free insulin. This caused the pharmaceutical company’s stock to drop by 4.5%. A Twitter user has pointed out: “it cost some hero $8 to evaporate billions in Eli Lilly stock value. Elon accidentally created one of the most cost-effective anti-capitalist tools in history.”
Wait, is Elon killing Twitter?
Only time will tell. To be fair, Twitter was already dying before he bought it. The last time it had a profitable year was in 2019. Also, “it’s smaller than all its other big competitors like Facebook or TikTok, and [. . .] there’s evidence that it’s losing some of its most prolific users internally.” One of the reasons Musk cited when he was initially trying to back out of the deal was “that based on his analysis, ‘false or spam accounts’ comprised 33% of visible accounts on the platform during the first week of July, and about 10% of its monetizable daily active users during the period.”
Wait, what’s a Mastodon?
It’s a metal band and an extinct mammal. It’s also a microblogging platform that people use as an alternative to Twitter. However, the platform is said to be complicated to use, resulting in many hilarious memes about the learning curve. Don’t worry though; there’s a YouTube video breaking it down.
Wait, does Elon Musk know what he’s doing?
Doesn’t seem like it. Although he runs multiple successful companies, this is his first time dealing with social media, which comes with “a lot of really thorny political, social, diplomatic problems.” He can’t just throw money at it and engineer his way to a successful platform. In a punchy article called “Welcome to hell, Elon,” Nilay Patel touches on just that. Musk may be a free speech absolutist, but advertisers and most users aren’t. Twitter needs advertisers and users to stay on the app to make money. Content moderation is not a question of preference; if Musk wants a profitable app, he will likely need to moderate more, not less. Advertisers will always prioritize brand safety, and that means not being associated with polarizing content and hate speech. In fact, GroupM, the “world’s leading media investment agency,” has said that buying ads on Twitter right now is “high-risk.”
Wait, what now?
I guess we wait and see. In the meantime, here are my thoughts @elonmusk:
- It’s not a “digital town square” if the wealthiest man in the world owns it and bans anyone who makes a joke about him.
- You can only turn Twitter into a “super app” if you can convince people to use it first.
- If you want this to work out, you will have to stop tweeting and start hiring and strategizing. Maybe one of us should show up to your house with a basin to help THAT sink in.