In the few short weeks since the Tesla maverick took over the reins at Twitter, the company has faced potential onslaught of lawsuits, regulatory intervention and fast-dropping user numbers.
His first initiative as CEO - launching Twitter Blue - was an exercise in trial and grave, grave error. The service, which allowed people to pay $7.99 to verify their identities, has led to a tidal emergence of spoof fake accounts. We have seen thousands of ghost accounts posing as the world’s most famous. From LeBron James, major corporations and even Musk himself, no celebrity name has been exempt.
Many people appeared to be creating obviously fake accounts to make fun of Musk and make a point about why Twitter Blue’s new system wouldn’t work. But the schadenfreude over Musk’s mismanagement must not ignore how impersonations inevitably spiral out of control and become dangerous. Experts say launches like Twitter blue, in tandem with Musk’s back-and-forth style of leading such a large company, are unprecedented. These are terms that we would usually associate with giants in the digital sphere. However, in this case, anxiety surrounding Twitter’s change of pace spells trouble for the social media platform’s future.
Musk’s renegade management style at Twitter is not so different from how he has run companies in the past. His manner, like that of Zuckerberg, Jobs and Dorsey, is part and parcel of his oeuvre as a kooky but ingenious entrepreneur. Advertisers, who have long relied on both platform notoriety and that of their founders, have started fleeing the social media channel. Upon hearing rumours of regulatory presence and the compiling of potential lawsuits, many have cut ties with Twitter.
Their fears are not rooted solely in performance anxiety. Musk’s decision-making play out on a public stage from the start is cause for his concern. Many are dubious of his tweeting about new policies before promptly reversing them and polling users about features like verification. These haphazard stops and starts have now caught the attention of policy regulators. They take issue with the fact that people can not only impersonate others but also that Twitter can continue to bend its own infrastructures for profit, at risk of user safety and concern.
After all, if anyone can impersonate a government official or other official source for $7.99 per month, the possibilities are chilling. Picture someone pretending to be a government agency falsely announcing that people shouldn’t go to the polls because Election Day has been rescheduled. Or claiming to be a nonprofit organisation sharing a hyperlink to donate funds to cancer patients or natural disaster victims. It’s unlikely many people would continue to use a platform where this kind of fraud was rampant and they couldn’t know whether to trust what they were seeing.
As the Twitter meltdown continues, a lawsuit against Musk goes to court next week in which investors at Tesla have accused the billionaire of overpaying himself while not investing sufficient time in the company. Investors at Tesla have sued Musk in the past over accusations of workplace harassment damaging the brand and securities fraud over his tweet about taking Tesla private in 2018. In addition, Twitter is already facing a lawsuit from some of the thousands of employees Musk laid off last week, who say they were not given proper notice of termination or sufficient severance pay.
These are not merely teething problems. They are indicators of chaos - and not the good, creative kind. Only time will tell if Musk’s swift changes to the platform and company will spell a brighter future for Twitter - or the beginning of the end for the social media channel.