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Elon Musk is today the biggest protagonist of the Show which is Twitter right now. The richest man in the world has temporarily become at least four things on the social network: a seller of cheap subscriptions as if they were fascicles of encyclopedias, a tireless troll of progressives, a restrained CEO of a multinational and a technological safeguard.
On Twitter one can see how Stephen King, who is a successful novelist, think you know more about companies and networks than Musk and his team. The claim that people on Twitter have to know more about the network than someone with 113 million followers who just spent 44 billion to buy it is wonderful.
Of course it may be that everything ends fatal. But for now, Musk fights us with his plot twists, memes and school jokes. It’s nice to see millionaires suffering from not being able to pay the bills of 1,000 million dollars that they owe at the end of the year, but now Musk has more fun than the others.
Musk is someone who is used to the risk of failure and has known how to set up companies that were pioneers in online payments (Paypal), electric cars (Tesla) and the renewal of the space race (SpaceX). Then he can be disliked and be a very annoying joker, the typical one who threw bits of paper at the girls and laughed to himself. But they are two different roles.
Musk’s chaotic profile is also good for the media because everything can be said about him: the New York Times says he copies Mark Zuckerberg. Axios says he copies Trump. And again it can be both at once.
Tech companies work by testing things: they release changes to the market and see what works best. These are often contradictory functions, but testing with software is easier than with hardware. Plus, it’s easier to tweet about trial balloons than it is to get a new service up and running. There is a lot going on and those who know it best are the employees of Twitter. Here a Twitter employee went viral for this photo sleeping in the company, which she defended.
The number of layoffs being handled (according to a comment in an internal Slack channel) is 50% of the company, more than 3,700 people, which would be one of the most massive layoffs in recent technology history. It also limits remote work, like at Tesla. This is the dreaded mail that the employees received yesterday, Thursday: the scythe will begin to fall at 5:00 p.m., Spanish time, by mail.
But here I am more interested in changes in the network itself.
1. Subscription is not (just) a blue ‘check’
Until it is closed, we will not know what Twitter offers for 8 dollars, which perhaps in Europe or Latin America is another figure. The only clear measure is that the famous check blue, account verification, will be able to buy. Until now, this badge was given to public figures. Now users without positions or fame (the “peasants”, according to Musk) will be entitled to the benefits that until now had the accounts that Twitter believed should have that signal (the “gentlemen”).
Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit.
Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 1, 2022
The great advantage is that if you pay you will be more visible: your mentions, answers or searches, the verified ones will come out sooner. The obvious problem is that whoever wants to sell smoke or state propaganda will be able to buy his influence. If a dictatorship gives away 200 check blues to lackeys, they will be able to respond to critical tweets first and bury the rest.
What else will the subscription offer? Who knows. The very Twitter employees who were supposed to prepare it found out when Musk tweeted it. (That behavior brings him closer to Trump, who was tweeting announcements that his advisers didn’t know about.)
This measure has great supporters (it is obligatory to charge more to those who use the platform more and want more benefits) and detractors (what was free never works and ceases to be). The truth is that it depends on what else the subscription offers, for example seeing fewer ads.
Beyond the check blue there is a clear movement from advertising funding to subscriptions. A network dominated by subscriptions, which can end up becoming funding for creators, will give less importance to virality and the war for attention: to make money with advertising you need more traffic than subscriptions. The calls superfollows they can come back as simple subscriptions to creators.
Twitter is perhaps the last network dominated by text. Investors, engineers, doctors, writers, athletes use it more than others. The potential of a subscription, with all the options it has, goes far beyond a check blue.
2. Vine’s return
Musk surveyed the return of Vine, the short video service that founded and killed Twitter in 2017, before the TikTok era. In the survey, 69% of the almost 5 million participants said yes. Musk seems to have given the go-ahead. Vine’s software is old and still works so-so, but it’s one of those trials that is almost free: we killed it because it had lost its appeal, but now the world is different. Why not try this too and see if anyone else likes it?
If Instagram and YouTube compete with Reels and Shorts for TikTok and are doing well, why not Twitter?
One crazy idea cited here is that vines (which were 6 seconds long) would encourage recording your reaction to a tweet.
3. The Supreme Court of Twitter
Musk announced that the return of the suspended accounts would depend on an ideologically varied advisory council. This is the similarity of him with Zuckerberg. Also that he met with several human rights organizations to talk about moderation and calm progressives ahead of Tuesday’s elections in the US.
Musk has posted a bio “Twitter complaint line” and a photo of him as a child with an old phone. Now he is the only face of Twitter. When he spends some time he will lose prominence. One of his changes will be to transfer power of moderation to this council.
4. Trump’s return (or not)
Musk has said that a decision on Trump’s return will take “weeks.” With former President Trump there is an added problem: Musk is a shareholder of another network, Truth Social. Perhaps he has a contractual obligation to stay until, perhaps, they sell it. Between the elections and Truth there could be a silent agreement to calm these changes until some time from now.
5. Moderation or censorship
The new head of Twitter came to the network as an absolute defender of freedom of expression. Moderation experts have already warned him to keep dreaming, that he is going to have to stop. This article breaks down 15 levels of problems that Musk will have to face instead of allowing almost everything: pedophilia, copyrighted memes, hate speech, threats from foreign governments.
Musk wears the anti-progress label. tweeted fake news to Hillary Clinton about the attack at her home on Paul Pelosi, husband of the leader of the US Congress, Nancy Pelosi. That was so false that it seemed that Twitter had deleted the tweet for moderation. He deleted it himself. At the moment, Twitter’s security chief is still in his position and publicly supported by Musk.
6. Paid Direct Messages
Another option that has been launched to enter some money. Do you want to contact a celebrity? Pay.
7. Other OnlyFans
A variant of subscriptions where there is a lot of money is porn. An option that someone has recovered on Twitter is its own OnlyFans, where users post videos that can only be seen by subscribers to their account. If that were porn, it would be OnlyFans. A few months ago it became known that Twitter had already explored this way of income. It was abandoned because porn (especially if pedophilia sneaks in) is dangerous, although it is allowed on Twitter.
8. Birdwatch Defense
The previous team launched a kind of tweet checking that works like Wikipedia, with collective wisdom. It is deployed in tests in the US and three other countries. This week a tweet from the White House went viral, which boasted of raising pensions. The truth was that it was only more because of the increase in the cost of living, not because the Biden administration put in more money.
White House: seniors are getting the biggest SS increase in 10 years.
Context-checkers: That’s because inflation is the highest it’s been in decades.
White House: *delete tweet*
— Spike Cohen (@RealSpikeCohen) November 2, 2022
Musk showed off this tool. Even if it wasn’t his team’s idea, if it works, he’s going to take it on. You can be right about something or wrong about everything, but it is reasonable to test whether this grieving network and expert in complaining can have another life.
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