A Lame Bird is Freed
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Twitter has become interesting. This is my way of politely saying that the platform has actually been upended and nothing is really recognizable. I was expecting this, but some of these latest changes are making it difficult to maneuver through my feed. If I am feeling overwhelmed, then I know many of you must be, too. I will try here to make sense of what we know and what we can expect.
Last Friday, Elon Musk formally took over the Twitter social media platform after finalizing the purchase with his original offer price of $54.20 a share, at a total cost of roughly $44 billion. You can find a complete timeline of the lengthy acquisition process, which started with Musk beginning to heavily invest in Twitter in January of this year.
By Saturday, Twitter layoffs began, and some managers were asked to draw up lists of employees to fire. Cuts were immediately made across the company, with some teams to be trimmed more than others, according to three people involved in the process, who declined to be named for fear of retaliation. The total scale of the layoffs could not be determined, but but it is estimated that 25% of the overall workforce of 7,500 employees has initially been laid off as of this last weekend.
Employees were scheduled to receive stock grants as part of their compensation on November 1 — these types of grants typically represent a significant portion of an employees’ pay. By laying off workers before that date, Mr. Musk will likely be able to avoid paying the grants, and bypass the merger agreement requirement that he pay the employees cash in place of their stock.
A document filed with financial regulators on Monday showed that Musk had dismissed Twitter’s board and taken complete control of the company, and a financial filing later on Monday officially revealed that Musk is CEO of the company. The public listing of Twitter stock was removed from the NYSE last week.
As the threat of more layoffs were looming this weekend, Twitter managers were told to have some staff to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, which is equivalent to 84 hours a week, to meet Musk's deadlines. Since Friday, staff at the company have been given goals, which many see as a test by Musk's team, to see who can work the hardest.
According to recent reports from CNBC, staff remaining at Twitter have not been told whether they will even qualify to get overtime pay, time off in lieu, or job security for working on these latest assignments. Staff have expressed concerns that their careers at Twitter could be over if they don't complete their tasks by the early November deadlines, as demanded by Musk’s legal and organizational team. Twitter's managers have been tasked with carrying out performance reviews and sending Musk's team lists of employees to be retained.
In order to compensate for the massive gap in the Twitter workforce, Musk has pulled more than 50 of his Tesla employees, mostly software engineers from the Autopilot team, into the Twitter takeover for coding tasks.
According to internal records, employees from Musk’s other companies, who are now authorized to work at Twitter, include more than 50 employees from Tesla, two from the Boring Company (which is building underground tunnels), and one from Neuralink (which is developing a brain-computer interface).
Some of Musk’s friends, advisors and backers, including the head of his family office Jared Birchall, angel investor Jason Calacanis, and founding PayPal chief operating officer and venture capitalist David Sacks, are also involved in the revamp. Twitter executives spent the weekend discussing a possible change to the social platform where users would have to pay to subscribe to Twitter Blue or lose their badges. According to Jason Calacanis, a member of Musk’s inner circle, his team spent Monday “meeting with the marketing and advertising community” in New York.
The practical ramifications of Elon Musk’s takeover and subsequent dismissal of such a large number of employees — who were previously in charge of monitoring content that was forbidden on the platform — have been apparent to users for days.
Within the first 24 hours of Musk’s private ownership, there were several reports of racist comments, hate speech and other objectionable content, and their significant increase. Many users seemed intent on testing Musk’s promise that he would allow “free speech” on the platform, so previously set limitations for language and account creation were tested.
Over the weekend, Musk tweeted (and then deleted) a link to a fringe conspiracy theory about the violent attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Musk made the post as a comment to a tweet from Hillary Clinton, who was expressing her condolences to the Pelosi family for the brutal attack Paul Pelosi had suffered.
The article that was attached to Musk’s post, that simply read: “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” was not from a credible news source. The website in question gets a red-rating warning for readers that says: "Proceed with caution: This website fails to adhere to several basic journalistic standards.” It is also important to note that the comment went out to Musk’s 112 million followers on the platform that he now owns.
While Musk has tried to assure advertisers that "Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape,” the recent influx of unregulated speech and the creation of new bot accounts does not seem to mirror that sentiment. Another recent issue that has drawn the ire of verified users on the Twitter platform has been the idea of charging users to maintain their verified blue check marks next to their account names.
Jason Calacanis posted a poll on Twitter this weekend asking how much people would be willing to pay for obtaining a blue check of verification and the vast majority voted “wouldn’t pay.”
While many of the Twitter users can clearly see there are problems with the platform, no one is able to deduce how bad the problem actually is. In an attempt to find out if Twitter was lying when it claimed fewer than 5% of its daily active users are fake or spam accounts, Musk hired Emilio Ferrara, an associate professor of computer science and communications at the University of Southern California, and other data scientists to investigate. Ferrara's presentation to Musk — some 350 pages of analysis and supporting documents — is locked up in confidential court filings, and Ferrara has said he can't disclose his conclusions.
The company has now been made private, and the public is not able to access enough data about what is happening to assess if Elon Musk is being honest about what the platform can, and cannot do. The only way users now have to determine their willingness to continue on Twitter is to judge the social media platform on how well it works for them.
The bottom line in all of this is that Elon Musk needs to make money from Twitter. For anyone who has ever tried to build their career with Twitter as the base, I can attest that this prospect is sincerely laughable. Finding a way of monetizing the platform has been tried at almost every level, often resulting in failure. Users are accustomed to a free platform, that maintains its appearance and consistency, provides some amount of protection from attacks and insults, and can keep the Twitter user in touch with a like-minded community while reaching out to new people.
This week, Twitter has failed completely in this prospect, as people’s feeds have been upended and replaced with messages from unfamiliar trolls and hateful accounts. What was previously a fairly well-oiled community organizing machine has now broken into a million little pieces, with the users all trying to figure out how to navigate this new landscape.
A lot of people have already left the platform entirely. I will not be leaving Twitter until the new year, at the very soonest, because there is not currently another option that provides an equitable social media experience. I actually enjoy (enjoyed?) Twitter and am hopeful that the users can make it what it once was, if they are not hindered with too much disinformation and deregulation.
The second my presence on Twitter changes, I will let you know. My best suggestion to you now is to apply pressure to Musk in making the necessary reforms as quickly as possible by creating and holding your accounts on other platforms. In the meantime, I would urge you to subscribe to my SHERO newsletter here, so that you never miss a thing while we are all trying to figure out how to manage this new challenge. I will keep you posted on any newsworthy changes that occur, and I will continue tweeting out what I see happening in real time. Until then, I have a Midterm Election to focus on.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter, is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and an analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.
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