Elon Musk’s influence at Twitter is starting to be felt within the product itself (Image: NationalWorld / Getty Images)
It’s been 19 days since Elon Musk bought Twitter. Even in these over-bearing times, it has felt a lot longer than that.
The latest news out of Twitter HQ is more job losses. It has been reported that Twitter has cut thousands more jobs over the weekend, dismissing outsourced contract workers - including those who fight misinformation on the platform as content moderators. The journalist Casey Newton tweeted last night: “Company sources tell me that yesterday Twitter eliminated ~4,400 of its ~5,500 contract employees, with cuts expected to have significant impact to content moderation and the core infrastructure services that keep the site up and running. People inside are stunned.”
Twitter had already made 8,000 job cuts in the first two weeks of Musk’s reign, including the vast majority of its UK operation and its entire communications department. Aside from the impact on the staff affected, this has resulted in Twitter feeling a lot less up-to-date and uncharacteristically clunky.
Twitter Moments, which previously allowed news publishers to succinctly summarise their stories, no longer appear amongst the trends and hashtags. Live stories, which lets verified news sources provide up-to-date information on events taking place in real time, are either not updated, or are appearing on users’ timelines when the event (such as sporting fixtures) has finished.
It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together. The correlation between the sackings and the quality of the product deteriorating is clear.
As well as the staff cuts, there was a chaotic week of umming and ahhing over the new verification processes that Musk used as his showpiece policy for change once he’d purchased the site. First we got the grey ‘official’ logo appearing below verified accounts. Then that disappeared. Then it came back.
Then we got people being able to buy their blue ticks (as promised) for $8 a month, with a pop-up that told you they had paid for their blue tick. Then that was removed. This resulted in a number of embarrassing gaffes, most notably a pharmaceutical company losing billions in market value due to a tweet from an account impersonating them saying they were going to make insulin free.
Buying such a popular source of reliable information and changing it is now having consequences in the real world. Twitter is not a toy. What makes it so unique now feels at risk. Speed, accuracy, reliability and a ‘town square’ type forum where anyone can reply to anybody else has changed.
Reducing moderation and attempting to monetise users might make business sense, but it feels like a dangerous game to be playing in an era of misinformation. Twitter is more than what is on its balance sheet.
Even so, the changes haven’t saved Twitter financially. There have been suggestions that Twitter could go bankrupt, from Musk himself. It was losing $4 million a day when he bought the site. Thousands of job losses and a new subscription service later, and still not a positive outlook? It’s a ruthless world.
You don’t become the richest person on the planet without being afraid to make ruthless decisions. Perhaps buying one of the most accurate sources of reliable information and making it less reliable is the most ruthless decision yet. Whether it survives or its users stay remains to be seen.