New Twitter owner Elon Musk presided over a rambling, hourlong appeal to advertisers, defending the newly instituted $8-a-month blue-check verification program and vowing to make the social platform “a force for good.”
The conversation convened on the company’s Spaces audio platform (listen to full audio below) came as a number of major advertisers have paused their buys on Twitter given its dramatic change of ownership.
“I think it’s going to be a good world,” Musk said of the new blue-check system. “Don’t we believe in ‘one person, one vote?’ I think we do. … Maybe this is a dumb decision, but we’ll see.”
The company was just taken private by Musk and a group of investors in a $44 billion deal first proposed last spring. Musk spent months trying to wiggle out of the takeover, but finally went ahead and closed it last month. Among the many changes he has ushered in just days into his oversight of the platform is an overhaul of the way the company verifies accounts. Historically, users whose accounts were deemed by the company to have particular value to the larger Twitter population because they were figures of note from politics, media, corporate life, entertainment or other sectors (about 400,000 or so accounts) got a blue check.
As of today, Twitter has eliminated that system, which Musk derided as the kind of “lords-and-peasants situation” that the United States “fought a war over.” Instead, Twitter will charge $8 a month for anyone who wants to have a blue check. The concern among many users and advertisers is the risk of harmful content circulating via accounts with a blue check, when all the check now signifies is that someone paid a nominal fee for the badge.
During the presentation, Musk and colleagues repeatedly emphasized that they would closely monitor accounts for fraudulent activity. “We will actively suspend accounts involved in deception or trickery of any kind,” Musk said. “It is a leveling of the playing field here. It will be less special, obviously, to have a check mark. But I think this is a good thing.”
David Cohen, head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, took part in the session as a representative for many interested parties. As Musk sketched out his vision, Cohen at one point said he was receiving a “tsunami” of emails and tweets from anxious constituents. The soap opera at Twitter is playing out as the digital advertising market has pulled back sharply, with tech companies like Meta Platforms, Alphabet and Roku reporting a significant slowdown in ad spending in the third quarter.
Musk, who spent months trolling Twitter before making his unsolicited takeover bid and vowing to rid it of bots and fake accounts, has continued to stir the pot with his 115 million-plus followers. He also retweeted (and later deleted) a baseless conspiracy theory related to the October 28 attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Despite his long history of dubious tweeting, Musk began the Spaces session by rhapsodizing about Twitter’s potential. He said his goal is to make Twitter “as inclusive as possible,” wondering, “can we get 80% of humanity on Twitter?” (While the notion of increasing active users from 238 million, its last publicly reported tally, to more than 6 billion, is far-fetched, it could help relieve pressure on making money from advertising.)
Here’s audio of the full Twitter Spaces session: