Elon Musk is many things: the world’s richest man, a divisive futurist, and since October 27, the CEO of Twitter. Musk’s new role has been a source of constant strife, and observers have been left to marvel at the chaos left in the wake of the takeover.
The process of the takeover has been long and arduous: officially starting in April of this year when Musk became the company’s largest shareholder, the Tesla CEO’s purchase of the company was eventually finalised for $44 billion USD ($65 billion AUD) following a lawsuit filed against him by Twitter after he attempted to pull out of the deal.
When Musk first announced his intentions, his supporters passionately cheered him on: he promised to “protect free speech” on the platform, hinted that banned users such as Donald Trump may be able to return, and pledged to fight spambot accounts.
For some, this is a noble endeavour, but it has done little to keep the platform afloat: following the takeover, Twitter is currently haemorrhaging users, stock, and employees.
One of the major areas of concern is the massive amount of Twitter’s staff that Musk has gutted from the company. Following the takeover, immediately fired Twitter’s chief executives and other higher managers. After this, Musk severed 3,700 employees, just over half of the platform’s team of 7,500.
The New York Times reported that employees who were fired received notification of termination through a company-wide email, rather than through individual communications.
“In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce,” the email said. “We recognize that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success moving forward.”
More recently, Musk has crippled Twitter’s capacity to battle rampant misinformation by firing contractors that it relied on to moderate and remove harmful content. According to the Financial Review, at least 3,000 contractors were fired from the company.
Yet, layoffs are not the sole reason behind Twitter’s voyage into choppy waters: another culprit is the commercialisation of the platform’s verified function. Prior to Musk’s ownership, some Twitter accounts received a blue tick to prove that the account was verified and authentic.
Verified accounts typically only belonged to celebrities, companies, and public figures, which made it difficult for these figures to be impersonated. Musk’s new feature called Twitter Blue changed this, which, amongst other things, allowed users to receive the verified tick by paying $8 a month.
This decision brought the platform into disarray: users quickly purchased Twitter Blue to impersonate accounts and post controversial statements, acting as if the actual figure was saying it.
One example of this is an impersonator of former U.S president George W. Bush saying that he missed, “killing Iraqis” during the Gulf Wars, and someone claiming to be Elon Musk stating that they regularly drink their own urine.
While humorous, the drama surrounding Twitter Blue resulted in some very real consequences, such as in the case of a user that imitated the official account of Eli Lilly & Co, a large pharmaceutical company. The user tweeted, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now,” which caused a massive crash for the company, wiping out stock worth billions.
Musk’s team has started to crackdown on impersonators by permanently banning offending accounts and adding an ‘official’ tag to verified accounts, but the damage is already done.
With Twitter rapidly transforming into some sort of digital Mad Max-esque wasteland, many companies have started to jump ship from the platform. Don’t celebrate just yet: while this may result in less attempts by corporations to seem cool and relatable through tweets, it also means that Twitter loses the lifeblood that keeps the lights on: advertising.
Some of the bigger advertisers abandoning the platform include corporate giants such as General Motors, Audi, United Airlines, Mondelez International, and others. This trend is likely to continue, with Balenciaga announcing today that it too will leave Twitter.
Without advertisers, Twitter loses any hope of continuing to exist, let alone being profitable. Musk himself previously said the platform is losing over $4 million USD ($5.9 million AUD), and advertisers pulling out will no doubt make a bad situation worse.
In a recent tweet, Musk cast blame for Twitter’s financial hardship on “activist groups” who were supposedly pressuring advertisers to pull out of the platform.
“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 said. “Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”
Based on all this, it is clear that Musk has locked Twitter into a downward spiral that it may be difficult to escape from. According to Business Insider, over one million users deactivated their Twitter accounts following Musk’s takeover, and this figure will likely continue to rise.
The Musk and Twitter saga is equal parts entertaining spectacle and frustrating disappointment. The platform seems to be on its last legs, and the next few weeks will reveal if the world’s richest man can salvage Twitter, or if it is doomed to fade into internet obscurity.