The least we can say is that Elon Musk’s first few weeks at the helm of Twitter have been eventful, even chaotic. If the boss of Tesla, who offered the social network for 44 billion dollars, never hid his desire to make radical changes for the company with the blue bird, it took only twenty days to see the first effects.
And for good reason, with more than 4 million dollars in losses per day, the California company is at risk of bankruptcy. Less than ten days after his arrival, Elon Musk began by cutting staff by laying off half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees. If some were thanked, others – the company’s senior executives in disagreement with the new boss – announced their resignation. This is the case of Léa Kissner, head of social network security, Yoel Roth, who manages customer trust, Damien Kieran, head of privacy protection and Marianne Fogarty, its chief compliance officer.
Less moderation, more hate
More than the layoffs, the positions concerned are concerned. If he cuts within his own teams, the multi-billionaire has also terminated the contracts of thousands of subcontractors dealing with content moderation on Twitter. A proposal why Virginie Clève, digital strategy consultant, fears the increase of uncensored messages: “There is a big risk of spreading hate messages. It should be expected that some of them will not be deleted or only late,” he explained, worrying that moderation is one of the repeated criticisms against the social network. But the new boss wants to provide assurance, ensuring that “Twitter’s commitment to content moderation remains unchanged.”
But at a time when moderation is one of the priority digital issues, Elon Musk’s project is out of place, warns Emmanuelle Patry, founder of the Social Media Lab: “He is an assumed libertarian, he repeatedly repeated what he wanted to do. Twitter is a space for total freedom of expression. But it is contrary to the fight against the phenomena of hate online”, estimates this specialist, who fears that Twitter will not become “an alternative social network, with a concentration of the far right and fake news”. And it must be said that Elon Musk’s initiatives are unlikely to reassure users and investors. This is the case of “Twitter Blue”, a new subscription for eight dollars per month that allows you to certify your account, regardless of your notoriety. This formula – launched in early November and temporarily suspended since – allows anyone to apply for certification, previously reserved for public figures, media and brands.
But the offer quickly created controversy and led to the creation of thousands of fake accounts. Among these impersonations are personalities like Georges W. Bush, Joe Biden, LeBron James or even Elon Musk himself. The situation became even more alarming when a verified account, posing as the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, posted a tweet saying that “insulin is now free”. The message, which immediately went viral, was only deleted two hours later, causing the company’s shares to fall, but also the frustration of patients. “Symbolic, but the blue badge, when it was created at the beginning of Twitter, it was awarded to verified media and journalists. They want to make Twitter an editorialized platform. Elon Musk does the opposite. He considers that the word of the media should be at the same level as citizens, but it can be a problem with fake news, “decrypts Emmanuelle Patry.
Lack of strategy
The billionaire’s fantasies did not stop there. On November 9, it launched an “official” badge to distinguish paid certified accounts – the famous “Twitter Blue” – from public interest accounts, such as governments, media and major brands and the most famous personality. In other words, a badge meant to guarantee the authenticity of these accounts… has exactly the same function as the previous blue badge. A feature that disappeared at the beginning of the afternoon, before reappearing a few hours later. “Please remember that Twitter is going to do a lot of crazy things in the coming months. We’re going to keep what works and change what doesn’t,” the billionaire simply reacted.
Round trips that show a total lack of strategy, according to our two experts: “Confused. He throws things on the fly, he has no idea what he’s doing,” explains Emmanuelle Patry. For Virginie Clève, Elon Musk is “a compulsive user of Twitter, a fan of the social network who thinks that doing he’s an expert”, referring to the consultant, comparing the billionaire to “a crazy dog with a new toy”.
These rash initiatives also alerted the US competition agency (Federal Trade Commission – FTC): “We are following the recent developments on Twitter with great concern. No CEO or company is above the law,” a spokesperson said in a rare warning, threatening the platform with heavy fines if it does not comply with data privacy rules. Can the American authorities close the social network? “It may happen, but the pressure must be enough for Elon Musk to follow the rules. They will not let go,” said Emmanuelle Patry.
Advertisers and users are fleeing
The most concerned are probably the advertisers. Some, like Chipotle, General Motors, Volkswagen, or even United Airlines, have paused their advertising campaigns. Others, such as advertising agencies, such as Omnicom – representing Apple, PepsiCo or McDonald’s – or the Interpublic Group (Coca-Cola, Unilever, American Express, Nintendo or Spotify) or the French group Havas advised their customers who temporarily stopped investing in Twitter. “Today, advertisers don’t want to be associated with anxiety-provoking or problematic content, they fear bad buzz,” Virgine Clève analyzed. If the situation is alarming, it is because the platform gets almost 90% of its revenue from advertising. “The financial collapse is the biggest risk of the moment for Twitter,” said Emmanuelle Patry.
After advertisers, users can also decide to leave Twitter to switch to another social network, such as LinkedIn or Mastodon, explains the founder of Social Media Lab. According to estimates by Bot Sentinel, a platform that studies unusual behavior on Twitter, more than 875,000 users deactivated their accounts between October 27 and November 1.
“What made it successful was the community of journalists, politicians, geeks, big bosses. If this community loses confidence in the tool, if the service deteriorates or if the DNA of the network is lost, it will be very difficult reach for things”, studies Emmanuelle Patry. For the specialist, the new CEO must reassure users: “If he piles on emotional decisions, Twitter can become a minor and Elon Musk can also decide on his own to close the company”. For Virginie Clève, if it is too early to predict the future of Twitter, the situation is worrying. “Is the fact that Elon Musk ordered him to sign his death warrant? It’s possible”.