the money game

3 Days That Changed Twitter Forever: Takeaways From Elon Musk’s Chaotic Weekend

Elon Musk makes his entrance at Twitter HQ Photo: Elon Musk via Twitter/AFP

That bang! klang! bang! you heard this weekend was the sound of Twitter going Elon Musk, a confusing and violent three-day period where the venerable social media network was subsumed into the consciousness of the world’s richest internet troll. After six months of litigation trying to get out of the deal, all of a sudden Twitter was very much remolded to be like its new Chief Twit. Just like that, there were major firings, pranks on the media, reports of a $20 verified tier, the spread of fake news, threats of litigation against the company’s former leaders, and the possibility of bringing back Vine to compete with TikTok. It wasn’t so much a blur as a frenetic pummeling by the new management. The Old Twitter is dead, but the chaos here still has some reasoning to it. After all, Musk still has to make money here — if not for himself, then for the investors who knowingly “overpaid” just to be part of this team of backers. Here’s what we learned about the future of Twitter this weekend:

Musk is forming a content moderation council.

Donald Trump isn’t back on the platform, at least not yet, but Musk has been nothing but clear that he intends to change how Twitter moderates its content. As a concrete step in this direction, he announced that the company would put together a panel with “widely diverse viewpoints” to be in charge of the new process.

He is reportedly going to start charging users for blue checks.

Alex Heath over at The Verge broke the news Sunday that Musk wants to charge $20 a month for verified accounts. There are over 360,000 verified Twitter accounts — most of them belonging to brands and celebrities. All these have been marked with a blue checkmark next to the user’s name, a way to show that the Kim Kardashian account you may follow is actually run by that person. A lot of journalists have them, too — which has inspired plenty of consternation from the right, who see it as a new elite status symbol.

Many verified users immediately shrugged about the prospect of losing the little graphic next to their name. The business logic of it is still murky: even if every single verified account signs up, that would generate less than $90 million a year, or about 1.8 percent of last year’s $5 billion in revenue.

But then again, the move might not be entirely about money. It might just about changing the nature of the platform to something Musk likes better. “A beautiful thing about Twitter is how it empowers citizen journalism – people are able to disseminate news without an establishment bias,” Musk wrote on Oct. 26, just days before he took control of the platform. Getting a blue check showed that someone was important, most likely had some kind of institutional backing. Whatever the original intent of verification, it became a status symbol. By diluting that status, and making it more explicitly about money, Musk is making his first big move to change Twitter’s culture and m.o.

And he will resurrect Vine.

Musk has to make money — at least $850 million a year in debt service that he owes the banks who financed his takeover. But Twitter hasn’t ever been very good at making money — even back in the oughts, when its competition was basically just Facebook. How does Musk plan to make money in the age of TikTok? Probably by bringing back Vine, the Twitter-owned short-form video platform that predated the China-owned behemoth:

On Monday Axios reported that “Twitter engineers already have been assigned to look at Vine’s old code base, which hasn’t been changed or updated since the shutdown.”

Through all this, he has been doing a lot of firing.

So long, Parag Agrawal, we hardly had any idea who you were. Musk hasn’t exactly crowned himself as Agrawal’s successor as CEO, opting instead for a gimmicky title of Chief Twit. But the CEO and former general counsel for the company are now gone, and in their place are a cast of characters who are some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names. According to the Times, they include venture capitalist Jason Calacanis, lawyer Alex Spiro, and Kayvon Beykpour, a former Twitter executive who was fired by the last CEO. But the rank and file are also going to go. Musk has previously said he’s going to fire about 75 percent of the company (though he backtracked on that) and there was a confusing period this weekend where engineers were expected to justify their code, on literal paper.

And giving his new employees some very aggressive deadlines.

Twitter has some 7,500 employees. The holdovers who are still working there are now expected to work all the time — clearly a litmus test to force out people who don’t want to work there. Some people are being told that if they don’t get the new verification code done by Wednesday they’ll be fired, the kind of huge ask that Musk has been known for.

He laughed at the media for covering fake firings.

On Friday, a couple of people showed up outside Twitter HQ with cardboard boxes. Their names were Rahul Ligma and Daniel Johnson, and they said they had been fired from the company. News outlets reported on it without verifying they actually worked there. Turns out, it was a hoax. Musk tweeted about it because there was a dick joke.

And he used the platform he now owns to spread fake news (before deleting his own tweet).

On Sunday, Musk tweeted out a link to an article in the Santa Monica Observer that trafficked right-wing falsities and insinuations that the man who attacked Paul Pelosi was his secret lover. The Observer is a false front, the kind of site that looks like an unassuming local news page but in fact spreads conspiracy theories, like Hillary Clinton actually died and was replaced by a body double during a 2016 debate with Donald Trump.

Musk deleted the tweet, but when it was reported in the New York Times that he had spread the story, he doubled down on his animosity toward the mainstream media:

Musk has moved to end the Delaware Chancery Court case, now that he controls the company, and it will probably get resolved soon, according to Andrew Jennings, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. This was an ugly, acrimonious lawsuit, and now that Musk is in control of the company he was once fighting, he now has the resources to feed his revenge upon the company forever and ever. Take a look at this tweet from Musk, sent Sunday:

Translation: Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, Yoel Roth, had a beef with someone else at the company named Amir, and in an internal Slack message, had fantasized about using his key internal metrics against him, insinuating that this Amir was making himself look more successful than he really was by manipulating the stats. (The point here is that Musk had accused Twitter of doing the same thing by saying that the number of bots on its platform was less than it was in reality).

Musk’s specific accusation here, that Twitter and its lawyers “deliberately hid” information from him is probably wrong — the Delaware Chancery Courts wouldn’t let him get all the Slack messages he wanted. But that’s not really what’s key here. The point here is that, with Musk in control, he is now unrestrained in his ability to go through the company’s data, something he wasn’t able to do just last month when he was fighting them. In this particular case, it looks like there is some kind of data mining operation going on to go through Twitter’s old Slack messages. The goal here seems to be that Musk wants to end up proving he was right all along, that there were bots and fraud and all the other allegations he made along the way. And now he has the platform to tell the world.

3 Days That Changed Twitter: Elon Musk’s Chaotic Weekend