Elon Musk has ordered Twitter staff to work around the clock to impose a fee on users to keep their verified “blue tick”, as the new owner of the social media company tries to put his stamp on the business.
The renewed push into subscription revenue comes as Twitter braces for a potential backlash from advertisers, as Musk considers loosening controls on content moderation. On Monday, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), a marketing industry group set up by the World Federation of Advertisers, warned Musk that keeping the platform free of inappropriate material was “non-negotiable”.
Advertising made up more than 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue in its most recently reported numbers as a public company. Before Musk’s arrival, efforts were made to persuade users to pay $4.99 a month to subscribe to Twitter Blue, which gives them access to exclusive features including an edit button.
Musk is said to want to raise the price of Twitter Blue and make it a condition of having a verified profile, denoted by a blue tick next to a user’s name, on the social media platform. Hundreds of thousands of Twitter users have been verified, including major brand and corporate accounts, as well as celebrities and journalists. However, Twitter Blue is only available to users in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand at the moment.
Employees at Twitter have been working “24/7” to deliver Musk’s vision for verification, two senior employees said. One person added that the teams were told it was “extremely serious”.
Musk said in a tweet on Sunday that “the entire verification process is being revamped right now”.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
A person familiar with Musk’s thinking ahead of the completion of the $44 billion purchase of the social media site said several pricing options had been discussed, including $9.99 and $14.99 a month, adding that different groups of users could be asked to test pricing models.
According to tech news site The Verge, Twitter plans to charge $19.99 a month for the new Twitter Blue subscription, while the Platformer blog reported that it would stay at $4.99 a month.
In a Twitter survey run by Jason Calacanis, a Musk adviser, more than 80 percent of more than 1.2 million respondents said they would not pay to be verified, while 11 percent said they would pay $5 a month and 5.5 percent would pay $15. Calacanis, a venture capitalist who backed the billionaire’s bid for the platform and now “hangs out a bit on Twitter,” said the company would be “laser focused on identity and security in the coming months.”
A Twitter executive said the new verification model “opens up another vector for abuse, which I highly doubt we’ll be prepared for given such a timeline”. Critics say brands or individuals who refuse to pay to keep their blue tick will be vulnerable to identity theft.
Spam, or fake accounts, have been a sore spot for Twitter — one of the reasons Musk tried to pull out of the buyout deal over the summer was that he believed the company had misrepresented the number of those profiles on the platform.
In April, Twitter revealed that it had been miscalculating its audience figures by 2 million users for about three years due to an “error”. The group has always maintained that fake or spam accounts represent less than 6 percent of its monetized daily active users.
GARM, which was created in response to marketers’ concerns that their ads were appearing alongside toxic content on social media, said in a statement Monday that it is “monitoring” Twitter’s actions after the takeover.
“Platforms must be safe for everyone and suitable for advertisers,” the body said. “For advertisers, this is non-negotiable – and we expect Twitter to uphold its commitments.”
Meanwhile, morale at Twitter is low among some employees as Musk sets in motion plans for broad layoffs.
Speaking to Twitter staff in June ahead of the takeover, Musk warned that the business needed to “get healthy” and undergo a “rationalization of headcount and expenses.”
After firing several top executives as soon as the deal closed last week, Musk dismissed Twitter’s entire board, leaving the billionaire as its sole director, according to a regulatory filing. He has now surrounded himself with a team including his personal lawyer Alex Spiro, trusted venture capitalists and Tesla employees, who are helping him decide how to run the business.
Over the weekend, Musk asked some senior staff and advisers to draw up lists of who should stay and who should be fired. A senior employee said a Tesla employee asked them to make a list of who to lay off, trying to cut remote workers, strategy and operations staff and engineers who don’t produce much code.
Dakota LeRoy, who describes herself as a product designer on Twitter, wrote on the platform: “Pumpkin cookie ghosts and Jack-o-lanterns but the scariest thing of all this Halloween is job insecurity.”
The pumpkin cookie ghosts and Jack-o-lanterns but the scariest thing of all this Halloween is the insecurity at work 👻 pic.twitter.com/u5LRR790aR
— Dakota LeRoy (@DakotaLeRoy) 31 October 2022
Video is also among other new features Musk is considering. On Monday, he posted a poll asking “Bring back Vine?”, Twitter’s short-form video app that the company shut down in 2016.
It is seen by many as the forerunner of TikTok, which has more than 1 billion users, compared to Twitter’s more than 200 million. TikTok’s exponential growth over the past two years has seen social media platforms, including Meta and YouTube, roll out short-form video offerings to try to emulate its model.
“What can we do to make it better than TikTok?” Musk asked in a follow-up comment to the vote.
Additional reporting by Arjun Neil Alim in London
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