Elon Musk and Twitter: a timeline of chaos
The takeover of Twitter has been chaotic – and if there’s one thing brands hate when choosing where to spend their budgets, it’s chaos. We keep tabs on the latest changes that will impact marketers...
Twitter's new owner Elon Musk has warned of bankruptcy less than a fortnight after taking over
Insider Intelligence's predictions for Twitter's revenue growth has been revised to “essentially flat” through to 2024, as advertisers continue to avoid the platform.
Musk's personal attacks on individuals have continued. Twitter's former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth has reportedly had to leave his home following threats from Musk supporters. Musk had appeared to baselessly accuse Roth of being sympathetic to paedophiles in the wake of the release of the so-called 'Twitter Files'.
Meanwhile, Musk also announced that Twitter is set to disband its Trust and Safety Council, which was an advisory group set up to steer decisions around moderation.
Twitter's Trust and Safety Council was a group of volunteers who over many years gave up their time when consulted by Twitter staff to offer advice on a wide range of online harms and safety issues.
At no point was it a governing body or decision making.— Alex Holmes ️ (@abcholmes) December 13, 2022
Twitter has announced and implemented changes to its verification system, following a lengthy delay after the previous disastrous changes (see below). Gold labels have been rolled out for commercial businesses, additional labeling is on its way for political and official bodies, and a phone number is now required in order to purchase a Twitter Blue subscription.
Accounts that were verified under the previous system are set to retain their status for the foreseeable future, although they will eventually be stripped of the iconic blue tick.
Additionally, footage of Musk being booed at a comedy gig has leaked, and reports of the video being repeatedly taken down by Twitter have continued to pop up. The video itself is now archived elsewhere, and has been joined by other videos that put the lie to Musk's claim that "90% of the crowd were cheering" and that a fight broke out just as he was brought on stage.
Dave chappelle brought up Elon musk up on stage at the chase center. Had to pry the yonder for this ahaha pt 1 pic.twitter.com/zCYNUf3Hhz— Cleo PatrA (@CleoPat48937885) December 12, 2022
Around 100 members of the Twitter team appear to have been removed from the company's Slack in the wake of an internal message regarding whistleblowers.
NEW: Elon Musk is threatening to sue Twitter employees who leak confidential information to the press. He's asking staffers to sign a pledge indicating they've understood. Here's the email:— Zoë Schiffer (@ZoeSchiffer) December 10, 2022
Update: Business Insider is reporting that some of the staff were cut off due to not checking their emails over the weekend and thus not having the time to agree, even if they wanted to.
Twitter is reportedly experimenting with expanding the character limit for tweets from 280 to 4000. This would be a radical change in how the platform is used and will change how users and advertisers have to use the platform.
Additionally, the way in which Musk has allowed certain third-parties access to Twitter data around the so-far unimpressive 'Twitter Files' appears to have drawn the ire of Ireland's privacy watchdog.
Twitter’s new head of trust and safety says the company did not give reporters access to peoples’ DMs. The screenshots came from her, she says: https://t.co/noFTUnqnl6— Zoë Schiffer (@ZoeSchiffer) December 9, 2022
Twitter is now also being sued by former employees, who claim that the layoffs disproportionately hit women. Reportedly 57% of female employees were let go, compared to 47% of male employees.
Following Musk's visit to Apple HQ, there had been speculation that Twitter would remain on the App Store albeit with Twitter Blue pricing increased to cope with the so-called 'Apple tax'. However, internal documents appear to demonstrate that the price will remain consistent across both Android and iOS.
Twitter on iOS now showing relaunched Twitter Blue subscription in-app purchaseDecember 9, 2022
The BBC is also reporting that San Francisco is investigating Twitter for potential breach of building code laws, as Musk has converted several boardrooms into bedrooms for staff. That lines up with previous reports that the new 'hardcore' Twitter was seeing employees effectively being mandated to sleep at work.
Twitter advertisers, who have been offered huge incentives to remain on the platform, are reportedly unhappy about their ads appearing against content from white nationalists Andrew Anglin and Patrick Casey. Anglin is the editor of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer; both men were previously banned but have been allowed back onto the platform since Musk's takeover.
Glitches and downtime at Twitter have become bad enough that the platform's co-founder has joked about it publicly. Experts warned that the vast numbers of layoffs would ultimately lead to failures of some of the platform's tertiary and even core systems.
Twitter has announced a raft of incentives designed to bring advertisers back onto the platform, after Musk's tactic of ringing CEOs to berate them into spending appears to have failed. The incentives have been described as extremely generous: advertisers in the US who commit $500,000 in incremental spending will qualify to have their spending matched with a "100% value add," up to a $1 million cap.
It remains to be seen if companies will commit spend to the beleagured platform in the wake of the concerns around brand safety and the platform's longevity under Musk.
Musk's public posturing around Twitter and Apple (see below) continues, though he has notably deleted his tweet about 'going to war'. Around 50% of Twitter's biggest advertisers are now reported to have reduced or paused advertising on the platform.
Interesting that Musk appears to have deleted this tweet. Maybe he’s not going to war after all? https://t.co/nQklKP66mq— James O'Malley (@Psythor) November 29, 2022
Meanwhile, further feature development resources appear to have been shifted to the ongoing issues around verification.
ℹ️ Apparently #Twitter has stopped working on this feature— Alessandro Paluzzi (@alex193a) November 29, 2022
Additionally, despite Musk having very publicly claimed that issues around child safety are paramount for the platform, it is reported that the teams responsible for monitoring and removing explicit material related to children have been gutted. Reportedly only a single employee remains to enforce Twitter’s ban such content across Japan and the entire Asia Pacific region - which encompasses more than 60% of the world’s population.
Twitter has also announced it will no longer be enforcing its own rules around Covid-19 misinformation.
Bloomberg and the Financial Times have reported that Twitter's new owner Elon Musk has personally called the CEOs of companies that have stopped advertising on the platform, in order to 'berate' them. This tactic does not appear to have moved the needle on adspend on the platform.
Meanwhile Twitter's internal errors appear to be mounting up in the face of job losses, with neither the remaining UK or German offices having been paid on time.
Elon Musk has posted a tweet implying he is 'going to war' with Apple over the 30% transaction fee it charges for payments made through the app store. This is the same fee that famously got Fortnite - one of the most popular battle royale games in the world - kicked off the iOS app store due to a dispute between Apple and Epic Games. Despite that, Musk is attempting to present the fee as a 'secret'.
Apple has reportedly dramatically reduced its ad spend on Twitter. In the first quarter of the year the company was responsible for around 4% of Twitter's overall ad revenue. It has since cut back significantly on that amount, prompting Musk to frame the removal as Apple refusing to back 'free speech in America'.
At time of writing there has been no direct response from either Apple or its CEO Tim Cook. What is notable is that Musk's public complaints have sparked speculation that Apple could remove Twitter from the App Store - though analysts are divided on the likelihood of this outcome. While that would be politically difficult for Apple, it would be an existential threat for Musk's Twitter.
Twitter appears to have lost its entire Brussels office to new owner Elon Musk's wide-ranging job cuts. This comes at a tricky time, as European regulators are on the warpath regarding moderation of online content - and the Brussels office was their main port of call with the social media platform.
Twitter has promoted Chris Riedy to head of ad sales. Previously he was the platform's vice president EMEA, and has been with the company for ten years. He spent two of those years as a senior manager for US sales. It remains to be seen whether this installation of a well-known sales figure will be enough to quiet the concerns around brand safety on the platform.
An advertiser explains why they’re pausing their Twitter ads campaigns: pic.twitter.com/jc0hBGzO4P— Peter Yang (@petergyang) November 21, 2022
Musk has reportedly made plans for end-to-end encrypted DMs, in addition to video and voice chats on the platform. The Verge reports that Musk said the creator of Signal is interested in helping develop encryption for direct messages. One of the core concerns among 'ex-tweeps' who have left the company is that Musk still has access to their direct messages.
Additionally, Musk has reportedly said that the firing phase of taking over the company is done, and that the company will begin building back teams.
hours after telling employees that they need to email updates of what they are doing every week, Elon Musk has cut basically all of their company perks, including wellness, productivity, home internet, training, and daycare allowances https://t.co/cX0bTxDuSu— Alex Heath (@alexeheath) November 22, 2022
Twitter UK's managing director Dara Nasr has left the company, having been managing director since November 2015. It follows reports last week that the UK headquarters has been shut down, with no trace remaining of the company in the London building.
His counterpart in France, Damien Viel, also announced he was no longer with the company. This was later confirmed by Bloomberg. He had been with Twitter France for seven years all told.
As The Drum's US correspondent Kendra Clark explains: Some believe it’s all a symptom that Musk is trying anything and everything to recoup the billions he poured into the acquisition. “We are seeing a real-time pilot of Elon Musk in search of a business model that works,” says Joe Pulizzi, an entrepreneur, podcaster and author of various marketing books. “Accurate information, first amendment, free speech – all that is secondary. Elon has $27bn of his own money in this and he’s desperate to find a model that will significantly increase the value of Twitter over time. Adding Trump and Kanye back on the platform is good for monetizing eyeballs. That’s it.”
Kanye West announced his account was no longer suspended in a test tweet. the US rapper was initially suspended early in October after tweeting: 'death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE'.
It was part of the ongoing relaxation of the rules that also saw the former US President Trump unbanned for his role in inciting the January 6th riots in the Capitol - although at time of writing the divisive figure appeared disinclined to tweet despite Musk's pleading.
Advertisers: We’re concerned about brand safety on Twitter. Can you reassure us?
Elon Musk: pic.twitter.com/rDTLfa3ihT— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) November 21, 2022
It raises doubts about whether Musk was being honest when he said such decisions would go before a council to make these decisions; Trump was reinstated following a narrow Twitter poll.
Twitter's head of US content partnerships Sarah Rosen has quit, stating that it was a difficult decision but "hot damn we had it good at Twitter1.0". Rosen has been behind many of the high-profile partnerships with news and entertainment companies - on which a good deal of the company's recent activity has been predicated.
She was joined by Maggie McLean Suniewick, who had joined in June as VP of partnerships. It speaks to the ongoing realignment of Twitter's strategic goals, which now seems to be moving away from becoming a digital video service.
Robin Wheeler, Twitter's head of ad sales, confirms in a tweet that she is leaving the company - despite Musk having reportedly convinced her to stay on the 10th.
To the team and my clients….you were always my first and only priority.— Robin Wheeler (@robinw) November 19, 2022
The Drum asked senior buyers where they expected ad money will go in the event Musk's Twitter2.0 becomes too toxic for advertisers.
Musk's company SpaceX is reported to have purchased a large number of ads on Twitter, presumably to shore up the "massive" revenue drop Musk referred to last week.
JUST IN: SpaceX purchases large advertising package from Twitter.— Watcher.Guru (@WatcherGuru) November 14, 2022
Musk claims incorrectly that Twitter is the "biggest click driver on the Internet by far", and is immediately fact-checked using Twitter's user-based fact-checking service. Users are correct: Twitter, at its peak, drove around as much traffic to websites as Pinterest, and far less than Facebook.
Elon Musk slowly finding out the most basic information about the platform he bought by getting fact-checked on it pic.twitter.com/fQzpprbglP— James Felton (@JimMFelton) November 13, 2022
Platformer has reported that Twitter has let between 4,400 and 5,500 contractors go - in addition to the roughly 50% of its core workforce fired last week. These contractors are reportedly responsible for many aspects of the site's running - but many were responsible for moderating disinformation on the platform, adding to advertisers' disquiet.
Musk has also responded to a US senator asking why his account was impersonated with insults. Said senator - Ed Markey - responded that Musk needs to "fix" his companies, "or Congress will".
Twitter reactivates its new ’Official’ labeling for some organizations and individuals, after the issues around impersonation.
This is a reversal of the previous policy that removed the Official labels after the earlier policy of adding them: https://t.co/E3qOd0uNgI— Anthony DeRosa (@Anthony) November 11, 2022
Musk’s plans for subscriptions to make up half of Twitter’s revenue look to have hit an iceberg, as users report that the ability to sign up for the $7.99 service appears to have disappeared from the iOS app.
The fallout from the job losses and resignations has also raised concerns about potential fines. Robin Wheeler, who was reported to have left the company on November 10, now appears to have been convinced to stay.
Here’s a sample of what Twitter needs to do in order to stay compliant. With the company’s top privacy, infosec, and compliance officers all resigning and reports that Musk wants engineers to “self-certify” for compliance… there’s a good chance Twitter is already in violation. pic.twitter.com/RRNDir9UNf— Scott Nover (@ScottNover) November 11, 2022
Musk has since disputed the reports of any violations.
Musk has now emailed employees, saying that the company will “do whatever it takes to adhere to both the letter and spirit of the FTC consent decree. Anything you read to the contrary is absolutely false.”— Cat Zakrzewski (@Cat_Zakrzewski) November 11, 2022
Musk also attempts to clarify rules around parody accounts, which have been at the center of the issue around impersonation – and in some cases outright banned.
Going forward, accounts engaged in parody must include “parody” in their name, not just in bio— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 11, 2022
The new pay-to-play verification system immediately runs into issues, with huge brands and prominent individuals being impersonated and verified by new Twitter.
Twitter chaos sees Nintendo, Rockstar, Valve impersonated using verified accounts https://t.co/KT3SZH3LFD— Eurogamer (@eurogamer) November 10, 2022
As a result, Twitter announces it will be tackling this impersonation a priority. There are, however, still legal issues to be considered around the idea of paying for verification.
Additionally, the fallout from previous days sees advertisers more uncertain than ever about the future of Twitter.
Musk’s latest missive to Twitter employees states that bankruptcy was a potential future for the company if it could not transition to getting 50% of its revenue from subscriptions. Analysts are unsure about the viability of Twitter Blue in its current form as a means of driving subscriptions: with no roadmap in place for the other features Musk has announced for the service, it is unclear what potential subscribers would be paying for.
For advertisers, the uncertainty is compounded by an hour-long Twitter Space in which Musk attempts once again to quell fears about the future of brand safety on the platform. He is joined on the call by Yoel Roth – who had been very visible and proactive in deciphering and disseminating Musk’s commandments in the days since he took over – and Robin Wheeler, the company’s effective head of sales.
“An immense step change to what it has been. I’m a technologist and I can make technology go fast, so that’s what you’ll be seeing..”
As @reckless has said, this man genuinely does not understand that he is head of an ad sales company.— Nandini Jammi (@nandoodles) November 9, 2022
Roth announces he is stepping down from the company less than 24 hours later.
His resignation follows that of other key Twitter figures, including its chief privacy officer Damien Kieran, its chief compliance officer Marianne Fogarty and – most worryingly – its chief information security officer Lea Kissner.
A lawyer within Twitter also posts a warning in the company’s internal Slack that Musk’s rapid changes are putting the company at risk of fines worth billions of dollars by the FTC. That in turn follows lawsuits being filed or threatened around the scale and manner in which 50% of the company was let go.
Musk announces he would consider putting all of Twitter behind a paywall, spooking advertisers for whom the platform’s appeal has been its outsized influence as a digital town square.
Additionally, advertisers fail to be reassured by Musk’s calls. MMA Global’s Lou Paskalis tweets at the new Twitter owner: “As you heard overwhelmingly from senior advertisers on the call, the issue concerning us all is content moderation and its impact on brand safety/suitability. You say you’re committed to moderation, but you just laid off 75% of the moderation team!”
It isn’t just advertisers that are concerned by the scale of mis- and disinformation set to be available on the platform under Musk’s new regime. News outlets are wary of the changes ahead of the US midterms – though Twitter later says that no changes would be incoming until after the elections.
Meanwhile, Australia’s digital safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant tells the senate that she is concerned about the impact the huge job cuts would have on the ability to counter disinformation on the platform. She states: ”If you make it a pay-for-play type of proposition, it turns that whole justification for having such a system on its head, it’s simply paying for a subscription service and not only will not provide those protections, but I think can open the platform up to much more malfeasance, impersonation and fake accounts and possibly with state-sponsored information operations as well.”
Twitter attempts to allay concerns about the proportion of hate speech on the platform, after anecdotal and data-led reports of a rise in unacceptable behavior and the use of slurs. It states: ”Levels of hate speech remain within historical norms, representing 0.25% to 0.45% of tweets per day among hundreds of millions.”
The platform also claims daily active users are up since Musk’s takeover.
Despite that, Musk also threatens to ”name and shame” advertisers that have pulled spend.
Elon Musk Threatening to 'Name and Shame' Advertisers Who Pull Budget
Put another way...
Elon's NEW strategy is to embarrass his new company's biggest customers whose money he desperately needs.
Genius https://t.co/kQsZV5vwFj— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) November 7, 2022
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As part of his stated aim to make Twitter a place where creators can be rewarded for content, Musk attempts to lure YouTube creators over to the platform. In a series of interactions with video creators, he says the platform is planning “creator monetization for all forms of content” with terms that would bear the 55% cut of advertising revenue that YouTube gives its top entertainers.
At the time of writing, no further plans are known, with Musk giving a two-week timeline for the details to emerge.
Musk tweets that Twitter has suffered a ”massive” drop in revenue, which he attempts to pin on activists causing brands to pull ad spend on the platform. This is undercut by the visibility of marketing officers tweeting their own experiences with the company, many of whom explicitly refute the idea they were being influenced by activists.
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.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 4, 2022
So for all the replies I received that content moderation = denial of freedom of speech (it doesn’t), what do you say about the fact that the “chief twit” just blocked me for exercising mine? Yesterday, @elonmusk solicited ?s from marketers, today he’s blocking those who ask them. pic.twitter.com/OrbteIv2vK— Lou Paskalis (@LouPas) November 4, 2022
This follows news that some of the biggest brands in the world had halted spend or otherwise chosen to reduce their presence on the platform. Even before the job losses, major brands were reappraising their plans. A spokesperson for General Motors, for example, states: “We are engaging with Twitter to understand the direction of the platform under [its] new ownership. As is the normal course of business with a significant change in a media platform, we have temporarily paused our paid advertising. Our customer care interactions on Twitter will continue.”
Update: Our own reporting shows that some media buyers are in fact advising clients to continue spending on the platform.
More of Musk’s plans for Twitter begin to emerge, with one of his primary reported aims being the revival of Vine, the short-form video platform that paved the way for Reels and TikTok, but which was shuttered by Twitter in 2016.
Given that video advertising delivers higher yields, it is likely this is an attempt to shore up Twitter’s advertising revenue. It is reported that Musk’s takeover plans are predicated on shifting focus from its current advertising strategy to one focusing foremost on subscription revenue.
The challenges around countering disinformation on Musk’s Twitter are brought home when the man himself shares an unfounded conspiracy theory uncritically. He later deletes the tweet.
Elon Musk has deleted his tweet spreading an unfounded conspiracy about Pelosi’s husband. And his fans are now upset that he has “caved to the leftist mob” pic.twitter.com/jwq7mhZ1Z3— Davey Alba (@daveyalba) October 30, 2022
Elon Musk officially takes over as owner of Twitter, making the announcement by tweeting that ”the bird is freed” and a number of meme-related tweets. There are confirmed reports that one of his first acts is to fire Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and head of legal policy, trust and safety Vijaya Gadde.
This follows months of speculation about what impact Musk’s self-proclaimed free speech absolutism would have on the platform’s safety for brands, with his stated aim being to bring banned figures like Donald Trump back into the fold. This uncertainty also leads to many brands choosing not to prepurchase at the latest Upfronts event.
For brands, the uncertainty began when Musk initially launched his takeover attempt – but it only gets much worse as he officially takes over.