Twitter owner Elon Musk asked advertisers to keep using his platform on Wednesday as he outlined his plans for user verification, content moderation and even his intention to add banking capabilities to Twitter to a live audience of over 100,000 users.
During an hour-long Twitter Spaces session attended by representatives from Adidas, Chevron, Kate Spade, Nissan and Walgreens, Musk said he wanted Twitter to be “a force that moves civilization in a positive direction.”
An indicator of success, he said, would be whether his decisions lead to growth in users and advertising, while failure would mean the opposite.
The gathering of major advertisers and brands listening to Musk’s remarks underscored the intense interest — and perception of risk — generated by Musk’s erratic management of the company over the past week, from introducing (and then rolling back) product changes through half the company was hit by his comprehensive layoffs.
Musk asked his critics and companies that have stopped advertising on Twitter for a chance.
“I understand when people want to take a minute and see how things play out,” he said. “But really, the best way to see how things are going is just to use Twitter. And see how your experience has changed. It is better? Is it worse?”
Musk repeatedly urged skeptics to use the platform while answering questions about his proposal to offer blue ticks to users who agreed to pay $8 a month — a plan whose launch has been marred by uncertainty and abrupt changes .
Users who pay for Twitter Blue, the platform’s subscription service, are not required to provide any identifying information other than a credit card and phone number, Musk confirmed. Twitter will eventually show tweets from Twitter Blue subscribers by default, while tweets from users who don’t pay for a blue tick would be relegated to a separate page on the site and effectively buried, unless viewers were seeking that material.
Brands are expected to foot the bill for their own verification on Twitter Blue, Musk said. He didn’t go into details about a separate, gray verification badge that Twitter is developing for big brands, government accounts, and media outlets — a feature the company says isn’t available for purchase but is given to high-profile accounts to differentiate them those who paid for blue ticks. On Wednesday, Twitter appeared to have briefly rolled out the gray tick for some users, although Musk soon tweeted that he had “killed” it. A Twitter product manager working on the feature left the door open to an eventual release.
Musk also argued, unlike some of his critics, that well-equipped providers of misinformation and disinformation would be unable to manipulate the system because they would quickly run out of phone numbers and credit cards, or eventually tire of the trouble.
Musk tried to distill many of the challenges of running a social media platform into a binary file.
“If you look at it as an information problem, truth is a signal and falsehood is noise,” he said. “And we want to improve the signal-to-noise ratio as much as possible.”
Musk’s broader plans for Twitter include adding financial products to the mix. He said it could start with Twitter allowing users to pay each other through the platform, with the company setting up an initial $10 gift for each user to try. Over time, Musk added, Twitter will offer users the ability to transfer money from its system to third-party banks — and then market its own banking services.
“The next step would be a money market account so you can get an extremely high return on your money,” Musk said, adding that debit cards and checks could also be part of the plan.
Last week, Twitter filed registration documents with the US government declaring its intention to join the payments industry and comply with certain banking regulations. A copy of the filing viewed by CNN showed that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network received the registration application from “Twitter Payments LLC” on Nov. 4, the York Times said on Wednesday.
Musk acknowledged brands’ concerns about the presence of hate speech and other objectionable content on the platform.
“I obviously don’t like having hate speech next to an ad,” he said with a chuckle.
Yoel Roth, head of integrity and safety at Twitter, said Twitter is investing heavily in ideas to combat hateful content.
“We believe there are many other things we can do, from alerts to interstitials to reducing the reach of that content, that we haven’t fully explored in the past,” Roth said, promising to implement those ideas quickly. Twitter has implemented many of these moves in the past, particularly in response to election and Covid-19 misinformation.
Musk said he and his teams are working to change much of Twitter’s existing codebase, in part to support new features like long-form videos. This feature, he said, will initially allow paying users to download 10 minutes of high-definition video before gradually increasing that time limit to 40 minutes and then several hours.
And he stressed the importance of Community Notes, formerly known as Birdwatch, a crowdsourced fact-checking feature that Twitter has been testing with some of its users.
Community Notes, he said, “is going to make a lot of the content that currently exists, in my opinion, obsolete.”
The extended question-and-answer session occasionally delved into the metaphorical and philosophical.
At one point, Musk seemed to acknowledge that his commitment to “freedom of speech” wasn’t absolute.
“There’s a huge difference between freedom of expression and freedom of reach,” he said.
Musk also described Twitter’s existing verification system as a “Lords and Peasants situation,” likening it to the American Revolutionary War.
“In the United States, we fought a war to get rid of this stuff,” he said. “Maybe that’s a stupid decision, but we’ll see.”