Twitter: Will There Be Enough Popcorn?
The on-off shall I-shant I pantomime, otherwise known as Musk’s purchase of Twitter, finally concluded at the end of October 2022, with him walking into Twitter HQ carrying a sink – why we all asked? We soon learned that it was an analogy for him throwing out everything good about Twitter. From a Social Goodness point of view the following month has been pretty much textbook for How a CEO Should Not Behave. It is also likely to bring the whole company crashing down, and may well take Musk with it.
Firing on a Whim
First off there was the way he treated the staff. Twitter had long cultivated a culture of internal dissent, with their motto being : “Communication fearlessly to build trust.” At first Musk seemed to give this the nod, saying “I hope my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that’s what free speech means.” But without any notification of policy change, the staff firings, via email or Slack, and sometimes just in the middle of a meeting, started ticking up. Staff that criticised or – God forbid – corrected his madder ramblings on Twitter (Musk is clearly clueless about anything technical), were also fired. During his first few weeks as CEO of Twitter, he laid off some 3,700 workers, about half the workforce, and all this without barely speaking to them. When he did communicate, he did so by sending what has been described as the the worst opening email from a CEO to employees in recent memory, in the middle of the night. It put an end to remote working (part of Twitter’s core benefits) with immediate effect, and outlined that the road ahead was arduous. A follow up a few days later was also sent at midnight and required people to respond positively to remaining employed within . Interestingly the majority of those fired seem to be engineers, despite Musk’s claims that “Twitter will also be much more engineering-driven. “
HOwever, whatever Musk thinks layoffs were enacted makes Twitter’s position particularly trickier. Disabled employees are suing, claiming that his demands forced them to quit. Other lawsuits have been filed from employees, stating the demands to work “24/7”, complaints over not receiving severance packages and the lack of notice before job cuts. Ex-employees have been left with thousands of dollars in expenses unpaid, and this month’s payroll was late being paid, with funds hitting bank accounts in the EU and United Kingdom one at a time, suggesting it was being done manually. Most of Twitter’s payroll staff left at the beginning of November. Many people were pushed in to their overdrafts or had to call their mortgage companies, which could be become an extra issue for Twitter, as laws about businesses not honouring their obligations to staff are much stricter in the EU than in the USA.
Then there’s user data and risk of hacking. Twitter is a hugely complex system that has been set up to enable grass root conversations and so people can find global contacts and discussions that are of interest to them. It is also responsible for a mammoth amount of data. Therefore, it is concerning that many of the company’s most experienced engineers have left or been fired over the last couple of weeks or so, apparently without being asked or enabled to pass on their specialist knowledge. Musk has also been posting regular requests for information about how the platform works, which isn’t exactly reassuring.
Many engineers, and other key personnel who were core to the platform functioning properly on a daily basis, have also been fired or have left. Users reported the platform was starting to unravel at the edges within a few days, with some tweets not loading, the retweet function not working properly, and people unable to change their account names. Two-step verification currently doesn’t work, so people are having to remove it or go through a long-winded process of getting codes in order to log in to their own profiles.
In addition, Twitter’s Head of Trust and Safety, Yoel Roth; Chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran; its chief information security officer, Lea Kissner, and its chief compliance officer, Marianne Fogarty, all resigned last week. There is currently no Communications section. There is currently no one actually in Twitter Headquarters at all. In addition, it is reported that EU laws covering employment rights and data safety and security laws have been breached, and many individuals and companies are apparently currently considering suing – or are already in the process of starting to sue – Twitter.
The Blue Tick Fiasco
Then there is the fiasco otherwise known as the ‘Blue Tick’ verified accounts that Musk changed to a paid system overnight. At $8 a piece, they weren’t actually verified in any form at all, just paid for. As literally everyone predicted, this led to a tsunami of fake ‘verified’ accounts, many targeting Musk himself, but also other prominent individuals and – of particular concern to the business community – company profiles. The most notable to date was a fake but ‘verified’ account for Eli Lilly, that tweeted: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” It was up for three hours and had over 10,000 likes, and cost them $16 billion in market cap. Legals eagles are saying that Eli Lilly could sue Twitter for ‘false advertising’.
Musk stated that if people want to impersonate accounts then they can do so, as Twitter will just remove them and keep their $8 fee. However, it’s been pretty much impossible to get Twitter to sort it over the last few weeks, or to be able to prove to them which is the real account. They have continued to call all paid-for verified accounts ‘verified’, even though they aren’t, which has been hugely confusing.
In addition, according to Musk historic Blue Tick (i.e. previously unpaid and properly verified) accounts will apparently have their Blue Ticks removed if they haven’t paid their $8 fee, which is going to make the situation even more misleading and confusing. It’s also worth noting at this point that Musk has stated he’ll make Twitter subscription only, which is likely to be the final kiss of death if it survives.
On 4th November, Musk complained “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. Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”
However, it turned out that the huge pause in advertising was self-inflicted by Musk himself, who had not just gutted the content moderation teams, but also fired the Twitter staff members who liaised with the marketers and advertisers, including the CCO.
Musk then had a call with some of the biggest advertisers to discuss strategy, and when it transpired he had no plan at all, confusion reigned, with many CMOs apparently shifting their budgets DURING the call. Advertisers who paused advertising included General Mills, Mondelez International, Pfizer, Volkswagen (Audi, Porsche, Bentley), Coca-Cola and Unilever.
In direct contrast to Musk’s claims, companies actually cited concerns about content moderation and security owing to the huge levels of staff redundancies, considering it likely their brands would be contaminated or damaged by association with something unpleasant. However, when one of the top marketers, MMA Global president Lou Paskalis, tweeted his concerns about it to Musk, Musk blocked him.
Finally, there’s a very real risk that Twitter will simply cease to exist in any meaningful form in the future. It’s a hugely complex infrastructure that currently isn’t being maintained, and outages have skyrocketed in the last 24 hours.
However, even if it limps on in some form or another, it may simply cease to exist even before before it completely implodes. Musk is also saying he could file for bankrupcy despite Twitter being in a healthier situation than at any point in its history when he bought it.
Biden has stated that Musk’s Twitter acquisition is “worth looking into’ and Twitter may have already violated its consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, which could be hugely damaging to Twitter – and Musk personally – if proven, as they have the power to fine Twitter billions. Senator Ed Markey referenced the latter after his Blue Tick account was impersonated and Musk replied with less concern than Senator Ed Markey might have wished.
In Senator Ed Markey’s tweet he references another legal case, currently investigating Tesla’s very poor safety standards. Seems there might be a pattern here of company mismanagement, so when senior Twitter engineers say that Twitter is extremely hackable right now and represents a security risk to users, they probably should be taken seriously. When experienced System Admins say it will eventually stop working, again, they should be taken seriously. It may not happen soon, but it will happen, unless Musk can get good reliable engineers and system admin people to work at Twitter – something that is becoming increasingly difficult.
Data, Data, Baby
Then there are the GDPR issues.
Twitter currently uses the one-stop shop (OSS) for GDPR, which allows companies to streamline regulatory administration by being able to engage with a lead data supervisor in the EU Member State where it is established i.e. Ireland for Twitter, rather than having to deal with data protection authorities across the whole of the EU. The most basic requirement for GDPR compliance is to have a data protection officer (DPO), which Twitter no longer does. They are also apparently contravening many of the GDPR’s regulations. Personally I’ve downloaded all our personal and business data on Twitter, and deleted tweet history. Suggest you do the same if you have a Twitter account, and then make sure you are well stocked up with popcorn…