Elon Musk is setting his reputation on fire and drawing unprecedented amounts of mockery in the process. That’s fun to watch. Unfortunately, as the new owner of Twitter, he’s doing that by opening a major social media platform up to disinformation, scams, and racism. That’s much less fun to see.
Late last week, Musk laid off around half of Twitter’s workforce and geared up for a switch from a blue-check system in which celebrities, journalists, and other noteworthy people had their identities verified for free as a service to readers wanting to know whether they were reading real stuff or fake stuff to a system in which people can pay $8 a month for a blue check that involves no identity verification at all. Then Musk started having to deal with the fallout, and it doesn’t seem like he had a very fun weekend.
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Over the weekend, Twitter started trying to rehire some of the workers it had laid off just a day or two before. “sorry to @- everybody on the weekend but I wanted to pass along that we have the opportunity to ask folks that were left off if they will come back. I need to put together names and rationales by 4PM PST Sunday,” read a Twitter Slack message directed at people who hadn’t been laid off. “I’ll do some research but if any of you who have been in contact with folks who might come back and who we think will help us, please nominate tomorrow before 4.”
Sources told Bloomberg that some of the layoffs had been a mistake, while others happened before top management realized that laying those people off was a bad idea because the company needed their expertise. How’s that for inspiring confidence that there’s a firm, sure, and knowing hand on the steering wheel at Twitter? Whoops! We didn’t intend for you to get a layoff notice at all. Double whoops! We did intend for you to get a layoff notice but after we sent it out we realized that we need you. Come back?
This is not what advertisers need to hear to make them confident that Musk knows what he’s doing with Twitter. Musk has repeatedly blamed activist groups for pushing companies to stop advertising on Twitter, but that’s not what advertisers themselves are saying about their decisions.
“Most of the marketers I’ve spoken to have pulled their dollars over the last week,” one senior ad executive told Digiday late last week. “Pressing pause on those dollars is, quite frankly, the most logical thing that any sort of senior marketer who cares about consumer media safety and their brand reputation could do.”
“There’s little reason for advertisers to trust him even as he makes these proclamations that Twitter won’t be a ‘free-for-all hellscape’ and promises that he won’t get rid of advertising altogether,” an analyst at eMarketer said. “When there have been issues like this in the past with other platforms there have been people on the inside at these companies who have been able to soothe advertisers. Musk has let all those people go. Musk has to build trust among advertisers.”
And you know what doesn’t build trust? Laying off the people who had some trust and then showing that you hadn’t thought it through by panicking and trying to get some of them back.
Musk is still claiming progressive advocacy groups are at fault, though, and threatening to sue.
Tom Fitton, the head of the far-right Judicial Watch, tweeted, “I wonder if @ElonMusk's @Twitter has tortious interference claims against the Left activist groups which are causing damaging advertiser boycotts of the platform?”
”We do,” Musk responded, incorrectly.
Musk’s reply came Monday morning after spending Sunday changing Twitter policy to punish people who made fun of him. After a number of high-profile accounts changed their display names to “Elon Musk,” Musk announced, “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.” Then, 45 minutes later, he added, “Any name change at all will cause temporary loss of verified checkmark.” It’s almost like he’s making this stuff up out of personal pique as he sees different ways people are making fun of him.
Comedian Kathy Griffin was a casualty of the impersonation policy: Her account was permanently suspended because she renamed herself Elon Musk.
Another hour or so after announcing his policy changes, perhaps sensing that he needed to beef up his free-speech-warrior creds, he opened himself up for still more mockery with a series of three tweets fighting it out for title of most ridiculous:
Musk just keeps showing how out of his depth he is, ricocheting from ridiculous statement to poorly thought-out action and then blaming other people for the consequences of his own behavior. No wonder advertisers and users are fleeing.
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