The least we can say is that Elon Musk’s first weeks at the head of Twitter were eventful, even chaotic. If the boss of Tesla, who offered the social network for 44 billion dollars, has never hidden his desire to make radical changes for the firm with the blue bird, it only took a twenty days to see the first repercussions.
And for good reason, with more than 4 million dollars in losses per day, the Californian company is at risk of bankruptcy. Less than ten days after his arrival, Elon Musk therefore began by cutting staff by laying off half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees. If some were thanked, others – senior executives of the firm in disagreement with the new boss – announced their resignation. This is the case of Léa Kissner, head of social network security, Yoel Roth, in charge of customer trust, Damien Kieran, head of privacy protection and Marianne Fogarty, its chief compliance officer.
More than the layoffs, it is the positions concerned that are of concern. If he cut within his own teams, the multi-billionaire also stopped the contracts of thousands of subcontractors who deal with the moderation of content on Twitter. A measure that makes Virginie Clève, consultant in digital strategy, fear an upsurge in uncensored messages: “There is a big risk of spreading hate messages. It is to be expected that some of them will not be deleted or only belatedly,” she explains, recalling that moderation is one of the recurring criticisms against the social network. But the new boss wanted to reassure, assuring that “Twitter’s commitment to content moderation remains unchanged”.
But at a time when moderation is one of the priority issues of digital, Elon Musk’s project is out of place, warns Emmanuelle Patry, founder of Social Media Lab: “He is an assumed libertarian, he has repeated several times that he wanted to make Twitter a space for total freedom of expression. But it is in contradiction with the fight against the phenomena of hatred online”, estimates this specialist, who fears that Twitter does 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 do not tend to reassure users and investors. This is the case of “Twitter Blue”, a new subscription at eight dollars per month allowing you to have your account certified, 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 discord 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 even became alarming when a verified account, posing as pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, posted a tweet stating that its “insulin is now free”. The message, which immediately went viral, was only removed two hours later, causing the firm’s shares to collapse, but also the dismay of patients. “It’s symbolic, but the blue badge, when it was created at the beginning of Twitter, it was awarded to verified media and journalists. They wanted to make Twitter an editorialized platform. Elon Musk does the opposite. He considers that the word of the media must be at the same level as that of citizens, but that can be problematic with fake news, ”decrypts Emmanuelle Patry.
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 accounts of public interest, such as governments, media and major brands and the most well-known personalities. In other words, a badge intended to guarantee the authenticity of these accounts… Exactly the same function as the previous blue badge. A feature that disappeared at the start of the afternoon, before reappearing a few hours later. “Please note that Twitter is going to do a lot of silly things in the coming months. We will keep what works and change what doesn’t, “simply reacted the billionaire.
Round trips that reflect a total lack of strategy, according to our two experts: “It’s chaotic. He throws things on the fly, he has absolutely no idea what he is doing,” explains Emmanuelle Patry. For Virginie Clève, Elon Musk is “a compulsive user of Twitter, a fan of the social network who thinks that makes him an expert”, deciphers the consultant, who compares the billionaire to “a crazy dog with a new toy “.
These hasty initiatives also alerted the US competition agency (Federal Trade Commission – FTC): “We are following recent developments at Twitter with great concern. No CEO or company is above the law,” one spokesperson said in a rare warning, threatening the platform with hefty fines if it fails to comply with data privacy rules. Could the American authority go so far as to close the social network? “It could happen, but the pressure should be enough for Elon Musk to comply with the rules. They are not going to let go, ”said Emmanuelle Patry.
The most worried 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 – which represents Apple, PepsiCo or McDonald’s – or Interpublic Group (Coca-Cola, Unilever, American Express, Nintendo or Spotify) or the French group Havas have advised their customers to temporarily stop investing in Twitter. “Today, advertisers no longer want to be associated with anxiety-provoking or problematic content, they are afraid of bad buzz”, analyzes Virgine Clève. If the situation is alarming, it is because the platform derives nearly 90% of its revenue from advertising. “The financial collapse is the biggest risk of the moment for Twitter,” said Emmanuelle Patry.
After the advertisers, it is the users who could also decide to leave Twitter to turn 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 its 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 disappears, it will be very difficult to catch up with things”, analyzes Emmanuelle Patry. For the specialist, the new CEO must reassure users: “If he piles up emotional decisions, Twitter could become a minor and Elon Musk could also decide himself to close the firm”. For Virginie Clève, if it is too early to predict the future of Twitter, the situation is worrying. “Does the fact that Elon Musk directs him sign his death warrant? It’s possible “.
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