Two weeks after Elon Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter, the company’s future has never looked less secure.
In the past week alone, one of the world’s most influential social networks has laid off half of its workforce; alienated powerful advertisers; blew up key aspects of its product and then repeatedly introduced and removed other features designed to compensate; and witnessed an exodus of executives.
Twitter’s wild swings appeared to be accelerating as recently as Thursday with more executive departures, mounting chaos over fake verified accounts and an unusual public rebuke by the US government. Twitter now appears to be on the brink, a point Musk himself seemed to have acknowledged on Thursday when he reportedly told staff that bankruptcy could be on the horizon (though it’s far from the first time he’s said it before warned of the insolvency of one of his companies).
“All day!” Musk tweeted.
It’s a stunning turnaround not only for Musk, who bought the company for $44 billion, but also for a platform used by some of the world’s most powerful people, including world leaders, CEOs and the Pope.
An end to the disruption did not seem in sight on Friday. In its recent reversal of the matter, Twitter said it would reintroduce a gray “official” badge for select accounts to confirm their identity. The decision came after Twitter was forced this week to fend off a wave of scammers with verified accounts, including some impersonating former President Donald Trump, Nintendo and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, among others. These accounts were a result of Musk’s decision to offer a blue tick, no questions asked, to any account holder willing to pay $8 a month while they explore new ways to make money on the platform.
That paid subscription service was also suspended without warning on Friday, just two days after its official launch, with the menu option to sign up for Twitter Blue suddenly disappearing from Twitter’s iOS app — the only place the add-on had been offered. It wasn’t immediately clear when the company might reinstate the offer.
The gray “Official” badge has become a symbol of the whiplash that users, staff and advertisers have been experiencing over the past few days.
Hours after the gray badges were introduced on Wednesday to help users distinguish legitimate celebrity and brand accounts from accounts that merely paid for a blue tick, Musk abruptly tweeted that he had “killed” the feature and forced subordinates to explain the reversal .
“We do not currently give accounts an ‘official’ label, but we take an aggressive stance against impersonation and deception,” Twitter’s verified support account tweeted Wednesday night.
The account’s next tweet, a day and nine hours later, said the exact opposite: “To combat identity theft, we’ve added the ‘Official’ label to some accounts.”
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the changes to the introduction of Twitter Blue or “Official” badges.
The bumpy rollout of the paid verification feature drew widespread criticism from misinformation experts, who warned it would make identifying trustworthy information much more difficult, especially in the critical post-US midterm election period. Even some of Musk’s fellow high-profile users of the platform had harsh feedback.
“@elonmusk, from one entrepreneur to another when you’ve got your customer service hat on. I just spent too much time muting all the newly purchased check mark accounts to make my verified mentions useful again.” tweeted Billionaire Mark Cuban.
“The bottom line is that you have to make a decision,” Cuban added. “Stick to the new Twitter that democratizes every tweet from paid accounts and puts a duty on all users to curate for themselves. Or bring back the Twitter curation. You make Twitter time and information efficient. The other is terrible.”
In a Twitter Spaces event held for advertisers this week, Musk asked brands to continue using the platform after a growing number of companies paused advertising in what Musk previously described as a “massive drop in revenue.” In this case, Musk tried to appear magnanimous by taking responsibility for the company’s performance.
“If something goes wrong, it’s my fault, because the goat stops with me,” he said in front of an audience of more than 100,000.
But privately, Musk’s critics have called the billionaire irresponsible, even in the face of scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, which publicly warned in a rare forward-looking statement on Thursday that it is “following recent developments at Twitter.” deep concern.”
According to an internal Slack message posted by a Twitter employee and viewed by CNN, Musk has shown little fear of FTC regulators overseeing the company’s numerous legally-binding consent agreements that require it to maintain a robust cybersecurity program and Prepare written privacy impact reports before launching any new product or service, a requirement that Twitter Blue could cover.
The company is already facing potential billions of dollars in fines from the FTC for alleged privacy missteps that predated Musk’s ownership. But, the Twitter official warned colleagues, Twitter could face legal action following the sudden resignation of several top Twitter executives tasked with fulfilling the company’s FTC obligations, including its chief information security officer and chief privacy officer see even more exposed.
Forced to deal with the looming risk of FTC oversight, Musk reportedly struck a conciliatory tone.
“Twitter will do everything possible to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FTC consent decree,” Musk reportedly wrote in an email to employees Thursday night.
The only thing Musk claims to be in his favor on Twitter is user growth, as more people tune in to see him fumble through ownership of the company.
“Twitter usage is at an all-time high,” Musk tweeted earlier this week, before adding follow up tweet: “I just hope the servers don’t melt!”