We’re now just over one week into Elon Musk’s Twitter reign, and the world’s richest man, who opened his bid to buy the platform by insisting he was not doing so “to make money,” is already taking drastic measures to improve profit margins. The billionaire reportedly plans to cut as much as half of the company’s workforce—meaning as many as 3,750 jobs—with at least some of those firings slated to occur by the end of Friday. He is also integrating Twitter’s “blue check” verification program into the Twitter Blue subscription service, according to The New York Times, which could cause a slew of user and content-moderation issues.
On pre-Musk Twitter, verification badges were provided to celebrities, journalists, politicians, and other public figures as a way of distinguishing their accounts from those of impersonators. (To prove their identity, verified users were often required to submit a picture of their government-issued ID and other identifying information.) But under the new Twitter Blue system—which is set to launch Monday in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—anyone will be able to receive a verification badge for a monthly $8 fee, negating the original purpose of verification.
Needless to say, the product’s November 7 rollout date raises obvious red flags. It will go into effect one day before the midterms, whose results are expected to be challenged by a deluge of right-wing misinformation. “Twitter imploding about 100 hours before what is surely going to be the most widely contested and fraught election in (modern) US history is surely going to matter next week in ways we cannot foresee,” tweeted cybersecurity expert Garrett Graff. The pay-for-check service could conceivably help bad actors spread election lies more effectively, allowing them to impersonate political candidates, high-profile journalists, or election officials.
As for the layoffs, the company’s leadership reportedly informed staffers Thursday that the cuts were designed “to place Twitter on a healthy path,” before announcing that the business’s offices would be temporarily closed to employees until the shake-up was over. In the company-wide memo Thursday, Twitter told employees to look out for a Friday email revealing whether they still had a job.
In turn, Twitter was hit with a class action lawsuit Thursday accusing the company of violating federal and state laws that require at least 60 days of notice before mass layoffs. The plaintiffs ask that Twitter be required to meet the notice minimum and that it be barred from issuing additional separation agreements to staffers targeted in the layoffs without making them aware of the aforementioned laws and the suit. “Plaintiffs are very concerned that Twitter will continue these layoffs without providing the requisite notice,” states the suit, which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California by five current or former employees.
The company’s internal havoc also stands to impact the midterms, as the layoffs have led to less content oversight. “Twitter was probably THE most responsive platform when I covered misinformation in the 2020 presidential election,” Bloomberg reporter Davey Alba tweeted. “Now? Comms has gone dark.… To say I’m worried for next week’s election doesn’t even begin to cover it.” On Friday, NBC tech and extremism reporter Ben Collins echoed the same worries and shared election-related concerns he had heard from current and former Twitter employees. “Using Twitter as a trustworthy source of information on Tuesday is going to be a nightmare,” said Collins, who noted how staffers have warned that Musk has “cut the moderation staff so severely that there’s no way they’re gonna catch up in time to these lies.”
Musk, for his part, has defended his vision for the platform, spending the past 24 hours sympathizing with aggrieved conservatives on Twitter and painting his critics as anti-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 tweeted Friday. “Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”