Yes, things are going to hell in a handbasket very quickly, and Musk may have found a way to lose even more than $44 billion on his new hobby. That's because Musk's new policies have opened the door to fraud, impersonation, and identity theft. Now top Twitter executives are (again) resigning rather than face the legal liabilities Musk is forcing onto himself and his company.
At issue is Twitter's existing legal settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, a settlement agreed to after Twitter was found to be using private user information to target advertisements.
In a resignation letter sent to all Twitter staff Thursday morning, company chief privacy officer Damien Kieran, chief information security officer Lea Kissner, and chief compliance officer Marianne Fogarty warned their fellow employees that while Musk himself may be "willing to take on a huge amount of risk in relation to this company and its users," the company's new plans to "shift the burden" of FTC compliance "to engineers" will "put a huge amount of personal, professional and legal risk" onto company engineers.
"All of this is extremely dangerous for our users. Also, given that the FTC can (and will!) fine Twitter BILLIONS of dollars pursuant to the FTC Consent Order, extremely detrimental to Twitter's longevity as a platform."
The Twitter executives who up until this morning were responsible for making sure Twitter wouldn't face multi-billion-dollar fines for violating the trust and security of their users have now quit, rather than being put on the hook for those violations—and they're warning the rest of Twitter's staff that they, too, had better watch their legal backs. The message ends by directing employees to both Twitter and FTC whistleblower hotlines.
In a Twitter thread, Riana Pfefferkorn describes the severe danger Musk has put Twitter into. "I totally believe [Elon] doesn't care about any FTC order," writes Pfefferkorn. "But regular mortals *do* worry about jail and lawsuits." And "nobody in their right mind" would take on the legal risks involved with "self-certify"-ing their work to the FTC.
What's the big risk, for Twitter? At present, it's that the company appears to have chosen a path that allows them to monetize fraud. With the launch of Musk's new $8-for-verification scheme, the company is allowing credible impersonations of Twitter users famous and not. It's already turned into chaos; there are many people willing to throw $8 into a burner Twitter account that impersonates international companies, sports figures, or anyone else they don't happen to like. Meet the new “verified” Twitter, everyone:
The more imminent danger to Twitter, however, is that Elon Musk has been taking multiple steps that make the impersonation problem worse. Musk killed the company's plan to differentiate between "verified" and pay-for "verified" accounts, eliminating the primary means by which Twitter users could differentiate between verified and fraudulent accounts. After a Chrome browser extension was released that would mark pay-for accounts and "verified" accounts as separate entities, mirroring Twitter's already-canceled feature, Musk took steps that would thwart that, too: he tweeted on Thursday that "Far too many corrupt legacy Blue “verification” checkmarks exist, so no choice but to remove legacy Blue in coming months."
Want to know whether the charity organization, celebrity, political figure, reporter, or corporation you're following on Twitter is the real one or an imitation identity meant to deceive you? There won't be one. It appears there won't be a way for Twitter itself to differentiate between the real and fraudulent accounts, either.
There's little chance that's a salvageable situation, when it comes to the FTC consent agreement Twitter is required to follow. What turns this into a potential multi-billion dollar catastrophe is the strong suggestion, from Musk, that his own actions are intended to allow Twitter to financially profit from fraudulent user behavior.
And Elon's not being shy about providing plenty of evidence for that. Lawyers, grab your tweets:
Twitter is also measurably profiting from a proliferation of hate accounts:
Current Twitter advertisers and companies that rely on Twitter are not taking it well. It's evident to all of them that brand safety has been wiped out overnight, on Twitter. Companies are now setting new guidelines distancing themselves from Twitter.
And advertisers? Even the ones unbothered by potential impersonations aren't going to want to pay money for their ads to be seen amidst a sea of trolls and hucksters.
There's no longer a question that Musk is perhaps-intentionally putting Twitter into a financial spiral that it will be unable to recover from. That's bad news for those around the world who currently rely on it, but a copycat system—or, rather, many—will arise in Twitter's absence.
Musk isn't going to get his $44B back. At this point, he's going to have to start worrying about whether the FTC will bury him in additional billions for intentionally creating a platform aimed at enabling identity theft and fraud. It doesn't matter if he blusters about it or not; he's going to have to start reaching very deep to find employees willing to share in the sort of legal liabilities he's laughing off.
And if he can’t, then Twitter’s going to collapse under its own weight simply because there won’t be anyone left to run its systems.
Holy crap, what an amazing night! Where do we even begin this week's episode of The Downballot? Well, we know exactly where: abortion. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap Tuesday's extraordinary results, starting with a clear-eyed examination of the issue that animated Democrats as never before—and that pundits got so badly wrong. They also discuss candidate quality (still really important!), Democratic meddling in GOP primaries (good for democracy, actually), and "soft" Biden disapprovers (lots of them voted for Democrats).
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