Amid mass layoffs, Musk yet to define Twitter’s mission

NEW YORK, 5 Nov 2022:

Elon Musk yesterday laid off thousands of Twitter employees in the US, Europe and Asia – a move that comes a week after he formally acquired the social media giant.

The world’s wealthiest individual, who has said his ultimate goal in buying the company is to “help humanity,” still has not announced how he plans to achieve that objective nor clarified his business strategy.

Twitter yesterday morning sent out a company-wide email to employees informing them layoffs were about to begin.

“In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global work force,” the email read.

“We recognise that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success moving forward.”

Referring to the layoffs, Musk – a South African-born American who also is CEO of electric carmaker Tesla and spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX – tweeted that “unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day.”

“Everyone exited was offered 3 months of severance, which is 50% more than legally required,” he wrote.

Musk also has used Twitter in recent days to propose some potential changes to the platform.

Those ideas include raising the price of a subscription service known as Twitter Blue from US$4.99 to US$7.99 and giving those subscribers the ability to post long-form videos and podcasts, as well as to have their accounts verified with a blue checkmark.

At present, only journalists and prominent political figures whose identify has been verified enjoy that latter status, for which they incur no cost.

Another Musk proposal is to revive short-form video hosting service Vine, which Twitter acquired in 2012 but discontinued four years later.

The CEO polled Twitter users about that idea, with nearly 70% of respondents replying “yes.”

Coinciding with the closing of his US$44 billion acquisition of Twitter late last week, Musk said in a tweet addressed to advertisers that it is “important to the future of civilisation to have a common digital town square where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.”

But he said the microblogging site “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences,” adding that the platform must adhere to the “laws of the land.”

After Twitter was acquired by Musk, a self-styled “free speech absolutist,” celebrities such as Grey’s Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes, singer Sara Bareilles, actress Tea Leoni and singer Toni Braxton have said they plan to leave the platform.

But a much bigger blow for Musk was a series of announcements by companies – including automakers Volkswagen, General Motors and Audi, food manufacturer General Mills and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer – they will pause paid advertising on Twitter in the wake of the multi-billionaire’s takeover.

Those steps are due to concerns about possible changes to content moderation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ads represent nearly 90% of Twitter’s total revenue.

Musk addressed the reduction in ad spending in a tweet yesterday.

“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,” the company’s CEO said.

“Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”

He said later in the day that “to be crystal clear, Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged.”

“In fact, we have actually seen hateful speech at times this week decline below our prior norms, contrary to what you may read in the press.”