Here’s how things stand at Twitter:
Elon Musk has owned the website for a week and a day.
Huge swaths of Twitter’s workforce — approximately 3,700 (or half of the company as indicated by leaked plans) – are set to be fired, and a class action lawsuit accusing Musk of violating labor laws has already been filed.
On Monday, Twitter is expected to roll out its $8 per month pay-for-a-verification-badge scheme via Twitter Blue which, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, does not appear like it will require any form of identity verification.
The first test of — *gestures to everything* — all of this, will come the next day, Nov. 8, when the website will be a hub for real time information as the 2022 midterm elections take place across the country.
It’s a recipe for chaos, which is where the platform is right now. Musk is tweeting through it. “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,” he wrote. “Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”
The massive layoffs were preempted to staff Thursday night via an email that instructed them to stay home, as they would be locked out of all offices for “safety” reasons. They would receive an email by 9 a.m. Friday, they were told, letting them know if they’d survived the purge.
The reality was much different, as the same night employees began to realize they were officially unemployed after attempting to log into their email or Slack accounts and finding themselves locked out.
Twitter’s Global Head of Social & Editorial Alphonzo Terrell also lost his job, along with many of his teammates, and revealed “the last @Twitter Tweet from my team and I.”
“Looks like I’m unemployed y’all,” added now-former Senior Community Manager Simon Balmain. “So sad it had to end this way.”
“I stayed up last night watching hard-working, talented, caring people get logged out one by one and I don’t know what to say,” tweeted Eli Schutz, a software engineer at the company who kept her job. Schutz published an anonymous message from another co-worker: “I didn’t get laid off. Feel like vomiting though.”
Former employees have already responded by suing Musk for violating California labor laws. The class-action suit, filed Thursday, accuses Musk and Twitter of violating California’s WARN act, which requires “sixty (60) days advance written notice of a mass layoff.” Other states and countries have similar laws, and more suits are expected on behalf of employees based out of Twitter’s various global offices.
Employees at Twitter have been scrambling to fulfill the many demands of their new owner, whose plan to pay out the $1 billion dollars annually in interest payments on the loans he took out to buy the company seems to be to just charge users for stuff. Musk is committed to his plan to attach algorithmic priority and a blue check — which will cost $8 per month — to Twitter Blue subscriptions, but he has also floated providing paywall for video content and paid DMs. Advertisers have balked at the messy transition, individual clients have paused ads on the app, and some agencies are advising clients to follow suit.
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The changes Musk is proposing for Twitter could have transformative consequences. Users on the platform worry that the addition of a verification checkmark — a long-standing marker that the website had confirmed the user’s identity or affiliation with an institution — without any sort of actual verification process opens doors to account impersonators and misinformation campaigns. Any user with $8 and a semi-believable handle could pose as a politician, government official, journalist, celebrity, agency, company, or any number of things. Havoc could come in the form of tweets from accounts that look official, distributing incorrect polling place locations and times, or falsely reporting breaking news events.
The concerns are compounded by the fact that the changes are taking place days before the November midterm elections, and with them a likely slew of allegations of fraud and conspiracy that spread virally through social media websites like Twitter. With some candidates declining to commit to accepting election results, the aftermath of the election will likely be just as critical as Election Day itself. Twitter is the central hub for information about news events, and rolling out major new updates while running on a skeleton crew will make addressing both the foreseen and unforeseen consequences that much harder — if not impossible.