5 Twitter nightmares facing Elon Musk

A spike in hate speech has been reported as advertisers pull out after billionaire became 'Chief Twit'

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Twitter's new chief executive Elon Musk on Friday was overseeing massive layoffs affecting as much as half of the workforce at the social media platform he purchased for $44 billion seven days ago.

With company offices temporarily closed and former executives departed, about 3,700 other staffers received notice that they had been laid off from the highly influential microblogging network.

Now the future of Twitter rests in how “Chief Twit” Mr Musk will address the complex issues in which he is currently ensnarled.

Back to court?

In California, where Twitter's headquarters are located, the law requires companies with more than 100 employees to give employees notice of at least 60 days before layoffs.

Most Twitter employees found out that they no longer had jobs after their email and Slack access was cut on Thursday evening — less than a week into Mr Musk's tenure.

On Thursday night, a class action lawsuit was promptly filed against Twitter for possibly violating state law against short-notice firings.

However, Bloomberg News reports that the chief executive may be paying US employees two months of severance to comply with the law. Mr Musk claimed later in a tweet that people were "offered 3 months of severance".

Advertisers leaving

Audi, General Mills, General Motors, Volkswagen are a handful of companies that have recently suspended advertising on Twitter, claiming concerns over deteriorating brand safety.

Mr Musk decried the loss of advertising revenue — which accounts for 90 per cent of Twitter's income — blaming “activists” he believes are against “free speech”.

“Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists,” he said.

“Extremely messed up! They're trying to destroy free speech in America.”

Free speech or not, advertisers say they are concerned about content moderation of rising hate speech and misinformation. Mr Musk also has tweeted misinformation himself, as recently as Wednesday before deleting the tweet without an explanation.

A rise in hate speech was reported immediately after Mr Musk took over late last week, with the Network Contagion Research Institute recording a 500 per cent increase in the use of the “N-word” over the course of 12 hours.

Reports of anti-Semitic and misogynistic speech are also rampant. Mr Musk tweeted a counter-argument on Friday that Twitter staffers have seen "hateful speech at times this week decline *below* [...] prior norms".

Concerns of misinformation around US elections

With the loss of half of Twitter's staff, there are worries inaccurate information — whether intended or not — may be left to spread with little or no moderation as the US votes in the 2020 midterm elections.

"With early voting underway in the US, our efforts on election integrity — including harmful misinformation that can suppress the vote and combatting state-backed information operations — remain a top priority," Twitter's head of Safety and Integrity Yoel Roth said in a tweet on Friday.

Mr Roth shared that 15 per cent of his team was laid off, and said Twitter's "core moderation capabilities remain in place".

Tweets from Twitter staff say the content curation, product and moderation teams were hit in the layoffs, and it's unclear how addressing misinformation may change with a smaller team.

The new CEO tweeted on Friday evening: "Again, to be crystal clear, Twitter's strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged."

Users search for alternatives

Mr Musk has been tweeting about a future of subscription programmes, including an expansion of what is offered with Twitter Blue, suggesting that people can pay to prioritise their replies to others and that the company may charge to view videos.

Some critics argue subscription revenue will not cover the losses that Mr Musk has to cover from advertisers pulling out or debt.

And users suggest the features he is offering will make for a different, potentially negative user experience — consequently they are searching for alternatives such as advertisement-free microblogging platforms Mastodon and CounterSocial.

Users leaving en masse spell trouble for generating advertising revenue.

And about that verified 'blue check'?

Mr Musk has also spoken about potentially charging for the blue tick on profiles, which have long been set up to verify the identities of public figures such as elected officials, journalists and celebrities.

The blue tick, often viewed as a “status symbol”, has been essential to fight fake accounts and harassment. Mr Musk sees it as a revenue stream.

But critics worry paid blue ticks will embolden bad actors to abuse them.

“We need to pay the bills somehow!” Mr Musk said to author Stephen King in a tweet that has gone viral about the idea that may or may not save Twitter and his financial investment.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 11:53 PM