July 23, 2024

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Elon Musk has ordered Twitter staff to work around the clock to implement a charge on users to keep their verified “blue tick”, as the new owner of the social media company seeks to stamp his mark on the business.

The renewed push into subscription revenues comes as Twitter braces itself for a potential backlash from advertisers, as Musk considers loosening content moderation controls. On Monday, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), a marketing industry group set up by the World Federation of Advertisers, warned Musk that keeping Twitter free of inappropriate material was “non-negotiable”.

Advertising made up more than 90 per cent of Twitter’s revenues in its last reported figures as a public company. Before Musk’s arrival, efforts to persuade users to pay $4.99 a month to subscribe to Twitter Blue, which enables them to access exclusive features including an edit button, had been at a nascent stage.

Musk is said to want to increase the pricing and make it a condition of having a verified profile, signified by a blue tick next to their name, on the social media platform. Hundreds of thousands of Twitter users have been verified, including big brands and corporate accounts, as well as celebrities and journalists.

Employees at Twitter have been working “24/7” on delivering Musk’s vision for verification, according to two senior staff members. One person added that teams were told it was of the “utmost gravity”.

Musk said in a tweet on Sunday that “the whole verification process is being revamped right now”.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

One person familiar with Musk’s thinking ahead of completing the $44bn purchase of Twitter said several pricing options had been discussed, including $9.99 and $14.99 a month, adding that different groups of users could be asked to test pricing models.

According to the technology news site The Verge, Twitter is planning to charge $19.99 a month for the new Twitter Blue subscription, while the Platformer blog reported it would stay at $4.99 a month.

In a Twitter poll run by one Musk adviser, more than 80 per cent of nearly 1mn respondents said they would not pay to be verified, while 11 per cent said they would pay $5 a month and 5 per cent would pay $15. Jason Calacanis, a venture capitalist who lent support to Musk’s Twitter bid and is now “hanging out at Twitter a bit”, said the company would be “laser-focused on identity and safety in the coming months”.

One manager at Twitter said the new verification model “opens up another vector of abuse, for which I highly doubt we will be prepared for given such a timeline”. Critics say that brands or individuals who refuse to pay to keep their blue tick will be vulnerable to impersonation.

Spam or fake accounts have been a sore spot for Twitter — one of the reasons Musk gave for trying to back out of the takeover deal over the summer was that he believed the company had misrepresented the number of these profiles on the platform.

In April, Twitter revealed it had miscalculated its audience figures by 2mn users for about three years, due to an “error”. Twitter has always maintained that fake or spam accounts represent fewer than 6 per cent of its monetisable daily active users.

GARM, which was set up in response to marketers’ concerns that their ads were appearing alongside toxic content on social media, said in a statement on Monday that it was “monitoring” Twitter’s actions following the takeover.

“Platforms should be safe for all, and suitable for advertisers,” the body said. “For advertisers this is non-negotiable — and we expect Twitter to uphold its commitments.”

Meanwhile, morale at Twitter is low among some staffers who fear lay-offs might be on the way and are looking for clarity from their new boss after months of uncertainty, according to multiple people at the company.

Dakota LeRoy, who describes herself as a product designer at Twitter, wrote on the platform: “Pumpkin sugar cookie ghosts and Jack-o-lanterns but the spookiest thing of all this Halloween is job insecurity.”

“The revolving door of leadership has hurt the company, while staff are trying to keep going,” another employee said.

Musk spoke to Twitter staff in June ahead of the takeover, warning that the business needed to “get healthy” and undergo a “rationalisation of headcount and expenses”.

Video is also among other new features Musk is deliberating over. On Monday, he posted a poll asking “Bring back Vine?”, Twitter’s short-form video app that the company shut down in 2016.

It is seen by many as the precursor to TikTok, which has more than 1bn users, compared with Twitter’s more than 200mn. TikTok’s exponential growth over the past two years has seen social media platforms including Meta and YouTube roll out short-form video offerings to try to emulate its model.

“What could we do to make it better than TikTok?” Musk asked in a follow-up comment on the poll.

Additional reporting by Arjun Neil Alim in London



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