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    Elon Musk and Twitter: a timeline of chaos

    The takeover of Twitter has been chaotic – and if there’s one thing brands hate when choosing where to spend their budgets, it’s chaos. We keep tabs on the latest changes that will impact marketers…

    November 11

    Twitter reactivates its new ’Official’ labeling for some organizations and individuals, after the issues around impersonation.

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>This is a reversal of the previous policy that removed the Official labels after the earlier policy of adding them: <a href=”https://t.co/E3qOd0uNgI”>https://t.co/E3qOd0uNgI</a></p>&mdash; Anthony DeRosa (@Anthony) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Anthony/status/1591058757618143234?ref_src=twsrc%5Et… 11, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    Musk’s plans for subscriptions to make up half of Twitter’s revenue look to have hit an iceberg, as users report that the ability to sign up for the $7.99 service appears to have disappeared from the iOS app. 

    The fallout from the job losses and resignations has also raised concerns about potential fines. Robin Wheeler, who was reported to have left the company on November 10, now appears to have been convinced to stay.

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Here’s a sample of what Twitter needs to do in order to stay compliant. With the company’s top privacy, infosec, and compliance officers all resigning and reports that Musk wants engineers to “self-certify” for compliance… there’s a good chance Twitter is already in violation. <a href=”https://t.co/RRNDir9UNf”>pic.twitter.com/RRNDir9UNf</a></p>&mdash; Scott Nover (@ScottNover) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ScottNover/status/1591048521754763265?ref_src=twsrc%… 11, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    Musk has since disputed the reports of any violations.

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Musk has now emailed employees, saying that the company will “do whatever it takes to adhere to both the letter and spirit of the FTC consent decree. Anything you read to the contrary is absolutely false.”</p>&mdash; Cat Zakrzewski (@Cat_Zakrzewski) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Cat_Zakrzewski/status/1590861188782780416?ref_src=tw… 11, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    Musk also attempts to clarify rules around parody accounts, which have been at the center of the issue around impersonation – and in some cases outright banned.

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Going forward, accounts engaged in parody must include “parody” in their name, not just in bio</p>&mdash; Elon Musk (@elonmusk) <a href=”https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1590884973535711232?ref_src=twsrc%5E… 11, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    November 10

    The new pay-to-play verification system immediately runs into issues, with huge brands and prominent individuals being impersonated and verified by new Twitter. 

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Twitter chaos sees Nintendo, Rockstar, Valve impersonated using verified accounts <a href=”https://t.co/KT3SZH3LFD”>https://t.co/KT3SZH3LFD</a></p>&mdash; Eurogamer (@eurogamer) <a href=”https://twitter.com/eurogamer/status/1590727983404183552?ref_src=twsrc%5… 10, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    As a result, Twitter announces it will be tackling this impersonation a priority. There are, however, still legal issues to be considered around the idea of paying for verification.

    Additionally, the fallout from previous days sees advertisers more uncertain than ever about the future of Twitter.

    Musk’s latest missive to Twitter employees states that bankruptcy was a potential future for the company if it could not transition to getting 50% of its revenue from subscriptions. Analysts are unsure about the viability of Twitter Blue in its current form as a means of driving subscriptions: with no roadmap in place for the other features Musk has announced for the service, it is unclear what potential subscribers would be paying for.

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>The headline is about the return to office, but this is the mind blowing part if you know anything at all about subscription income <a href=”https://t.co/TWWU48OyCF”>https://t.co/TWWU48OyCF</a> <a href=”https://t.co/IvbFE9HrRB”>pic.twitter.com/IvbFE9HrRB</a></p>&mdash; Monika Bauerlein (@MonikaBauerlein) <a href=”https://twitter.com/MonikaBauerlein/status/1590759557537533952?ref_src=t… 10, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    For advertisers, the uncertainty is compounded by an hour-long Twitter Space in which Musk attempts once again to quell fears about the future of brand safety on the platform. He is joined on the call by Yoel Roth – who had been very visible and proactive in deciphering and disseminating Musk’s commandments in the days since he took over – and Robin Wheeler, the company’s effective head of sales. 

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>“An immense step change to what it has been. I’m a technologist and I can make technology go fast, so that’s what you’ll be seeing..”<br><br>As <a href=”https://twitter.com/reckless?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@reckless</a> has said, this man genuinely does not understand that he is head of an ad sales company.</p>&mdash; Nandini Jammi (@nandoodles) <a href=”https://twitter.com/nandoodles/status/1590411031519825921?ref_src=twsrc%… 9, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    Roth announces he is stepping down from the company less than 24 hours later.

    His resignation follows that of other key Twitter figures, including its chief privacy officer Damien Kieran, its chief compliance officer Marianne Fogarty and – most worryingly – its chief information security officer Lea Kissner.

    A lawyer within Twitter also posts a warning in the company’s internal Slack that Musk’s rapid changes are putting the company at risk of fines worth billions of dollars by the FTC. That in turn follows lawsuits being filed or threatened around the scale and manner in which 50% of the company was let go. 

    November 9

    Musk announces he would consider putting all of Twitter behind a paywall, spooking advertisers for whom the platform’s appeal has been its outsized influence as a digital town square. 

    Additionally, advertisers fail to be reassured by Musk’s calls. MMA Global’s Lou Paskalis tweets at the new Twitter owner: “As you heard overwhelmingly from senior advertisers on the call, the issue concerning us all is content moderation and its impact on brand safety/suitability. You say you’re committed to moderation, but you just laid off 75% of the moderation team!”

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    November 8

    It isn’t just advertisers that are concerned by the scale of mis- and disinformation set to be available on the platform under Musk’s new regime. News outlets are weary of the changes ahead of the US midterms – though Twitter later says that no changes would be incoming until after the elections.

    Meanwhile, Australia’s digital safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant tells the senate that she is concerned about the impact the huge job cuts would have on the ability to counter disinformation on the platform. She states: ”If you make it a pay-for-play type of proposition, it turns that whole justification for having such a system on its head, it’s simply paying for a subscription service and not only will not provide those protections, but I think can open the platform up to much more malfeasance, impersonation and fake accounts and possibly with state-sponsored information operations as well.”

    November 7

    Twitter attempts to allay concerns about the proportion of hate speech on the platform, after anecdotal and data-led reports of a rise in unacceptable behavior and the use of slurs. It states: ”Levels of hate speech remain within historical norms, representing 0.25% to 0.45% of tweets per day among hundreds of millions.”

    The platform also claims daily active users are up since Musk’s takeover.

    Despite that, Musk also threatens to ”name and shame” advertisers that have pulled spend.

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Elon Musk Threatening to &#39;Name and Shame&#39; Advertisers Who Pull Budget<br><br>Put another way…<br><br>Elon&#39;s NEW strategy is to embarrass his new company&#39;s biggest customers whose money he desperately needs. <br><br>Genius <a href=”https://t.co/kQsZV5vwFj”>https://t.co/kQsZV5vwFj</a></p>&mdash; Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) <a href=”https://twitter.com/MattNavarra/status/1589673121317294081?ref_src=twsrc… 7, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    November 6

    As part of his stated aim to make Twitter a place where creators can be rewarded for content, Musk attempts to lure YouTube creators over to the platform. In a series of interactions with video creators, he says the platform is planning “creator monetization for all forms of content” with terms that would bear the 55% cut of advertising revenue that YouTube gives its top entertainers.

    At the time of writing, no further plans are known, with Musk giving a two-week timeline for the details to emerge.

    November 4

    Musk tweets that Twitter has suffered a ”massive” drop in revenue, which he attempts to pin on activists causing brands to pull ad spend on the platform. This is undercut by the visibility of marketing officers tweeting their own experiences with the company, many of whom explicitly refute the idea they were being influenced by activists. 

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>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.<br><br>Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.</p>&mdash; Elon Musk (@elonmusk) <a href=”https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1588538640401018880?ref_src=twsrc%5E… 4, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>So for all the replies I received that content moderation = denial of freedom of speech (it doesn’t), what do you say about the fact that the “chief twit” just blocked me for exercising mine? Yesterday, <a href=”https://twitter.com/elonmusk?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@elonmusk</a> solicited ?s from marketers, today he’s blocking those who ask them. <a href=”https://t.co/OrbteIv2vK”>pic.twitter.com/OrbteIv2vK</a></p>&mdash; Lou Paskalis (@LouPas) <a href=”https://twitter.com/LouPas/status/1588622182066057216?ref_src=twsrc%5Etf… 4, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    This follows news that some of the biggest brands in the world had halted spend or otherwise chosen to reduce their presence on the platform. Even before the job losses, major brands were reappraising their plans. A spokesperson for General Motors, for example, states: “We are engaging with Twitter to understand the direction of the platform under [its] new ownership. As is the normal course of business with a significant change in a media platform, we have temporarily paused our paid advertising. Our customer care interactions on Twitter will continue.”

    Update: Our own reporting shows that some media buyers are in fact advising clients to continue spending on the platform.

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    November 1

    More of Musk’s plans for Twitter begin to emerge, with one of his primary reported aims being the revival of Vine, the short-form video platform that paved the way for Reels and TikTok, but which was shuttered by Twitter in 2016. 

    Given that video advertising delivers higher yields, it is likely this is an attempt to shore up Twitter’s advertising revenue. It is reported that Musk’s takeover plans are predicated on shifting focus from its current advertising strategy to one focusing foremost on subscription revenue.

    October 30

    The challenges around countering disinformation on Musk’s Twitter are brought home when the man himself shares an unfounded conspiracy theory uncritically. He later deletes the tweet.

    <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Elon Musk has deleted his tweet spreading an unfounded conspiracy about Pelosi’s husband. And his fans are now upset that he has “caved to the leftist mob” <a href=”https://t.co/jwq7mhZ1Z3″>pic.twitter.com/jwq7mhZ1Z3</a></p>&mdash; Davey Alba (@daveyalba) <a href=”https://twitter.com/daveyalba/status/1586788146578178049?ref_src=twsrc%5… 30, 2022</a></blockquote>
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    October 28

    Elon Musk officially takes over as owner of Twitter, making the announcement by tweeting that ”the bird is freed” and a number of meme-related tweets. There are confirmed reports that one of his first acts is to fire Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and head of legal policy, trust and safety Vijaya Gadde. 

    This follows months of speculation about what impact Musk’s self-proclaimed free speech absolutism would have on the platform’s safety for brands, with his stated aim being to bring banned figures like Donald Trump back into the fold. This uncertainty also leads to many brands choosing not to prepurchase at the latest Upfronts event.

    For brands, the uncertainty began when Musk initially launched his takeover attempt – but it only gets much worse as he officially takes over. 

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