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Layoffs, ultimatums, and an ongoing saga over blue check marks: Elon Musk’s first month at Twitter

<i>Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Elon Musk
AFP via Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Elon Musk

By Catherine Thorbecke, CNN Business

Sunday officially marks one month since the world’s richest man took the helm at Twitter.

In that time, Elon Musk initiated mass layoffs and gave remaining staffers a cryptic ultimatum, reinstated the accounts of controversial figures including former President Donald Trump, and launched — then punted — a plan to charge for Twitter’s iconic blue checkmarks.

After spending months embroiled in an unsuccessful legal battle to get out of his initial proposal to buy Twitter, Musk made his first splashy entrance into the company’s offices on Oct. 26, carrying a sink. (In a video of the incident shared on Twitter, he wrote: “Entering Twitter HQ — let that sink in!)

Since then, the billionaire has seemingly left no stone unturned during his whirlwind first month as “Chief Twit.” Here is a look at the range of ways Musk (who is still, simultaneously, CEO of his other companies Tesla and SpaceX) has already left his mark on one of the world’s most influential social media platforms.

Musk clears out C-suite, then cuts approximately half of Twitter’s staff

Almost immediately after Musk completed his drama-plagued $44 billion deal to buy Twitter, he fired former CEO Parag Agrawal and other executives. He then made himself the CEO and sole director of the platform, per a securities filing.

The dramatic leadership shakeup, however, was only the first taste of the major staffing overhaul to come. Musk began wide-ranging layoffs across the company, reducing its overall headcount by roughly 50% in the span of a couple of days.

On the eve of Nov. 3 and into Nov. 4, numerous now-former Twitter employees began posting on the platform that they had been locked out of their company email accounts as the job cuts began to play out in a very dramatic, public manner.

The layoffs impacted departments including ethical AI, marketing and communication, search, public policy, and more. As the workers said goodbye to their colleagues online (many sharing blue hearts and salute emojis to signal they had lost their jobs at Twitter), Musk remained largely silent, at least on the job cuts.

In another dramatic move by the new boss, Musk publicly fired a software engineer who had survived the initial round of cuts, but who then questioned Musk on Twitter.

Musk gives ultimatum to remaining employees: Do ‘extremely hardcore’ work or leave

In a late-night internal email after the mass staff cuts, Musk asked Twitter’s remaining employees to commit to “extremely hardcore” work or else leave the company with severance pay.

“Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore,” Musk wrote in the memo sent out on Nov. 16. “This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

In the memo, Musk goes on to outline how Twitter will be “much more engineering-driven” and then gives staff an ultimatum. “If you are sure that you want to be part of the new Twitter, please click yes on the link below,” directing staff to what appears to be an online form.

Musk said any employee who has not done so by 5 p.m. ET on the following day, Thursday, would receive three months severance.

Advertisers flee, and Musk decries ‘massive drop in revenue’

In the shadow of the mass exodus of workers, a departure of advertisers was also brewing.

Since Musk’s takeover, a handful of brands — ranging from General Mills to the North Face to the Volkswagen Group — confirmed a pause in advertising on the social network as civil society organizations raised new concern over the direction of the company under Musk.

Approximately a week after he took over the company, Musk said that it had seen a “massive drop in revenue.”

“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 said in a tweet on Nov. 4. “Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”

An ongoing saga over blue check marks kicks off

Another aspect of Twitter that Musk quickly upended is one of the platform’s most familiar features for its users: the verified blue check marks that had long been used to confirm the authenticity of government officials, journalists, and other public figures.

“Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullsh*t,” Musk tweeted on Nov. 1. “Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.”

Sure enough, on Nov. 5, Twitter launched an updated version of its iOS app that allowed users to pay a monthly subscription fee to receive a blue check mark on their profiles. The update, as outlined on Apple’s App Store at the time, stated that users would now have to pay $7.99 per month for the company’s Twitter Blue subscription to receive a check mark on the platform, “just like the celebrities, companies, and politicians you already follow.”

Within days of the rollout of the subscription service, Twitter was inundated with a wave of celebrity and corporate impersonators who quickly gamed the new system to pose as brands and prominent figures.

Chaos ensued. In one viral example, a fake account, which featured a newly purchased blue check mark, purporting to be pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly tweeted that a critical diabetes drug would now be free.

In the wake of the mayhem, Musk ultimately announced that it would delay the rollout of the subscription service until the end of the month.

“Punting relaunch of Blue Verified to November 29th to make sure that it is rock solid,” Musk tweeted on Nov. 15.

On Nov. 24 Musk gave a slightly different target date for the relaunch, Dec. 2, and offered more details about the future service, including a range of check mark colors to denote the type of verified account.

Twitter restores some previously banned accounts, including Donald Trump’s

On Nov. 19, Musk restored the Twitter account of former President Donald Trump, nearly two years after it had been permanently banned following the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

The move came shortly after Twitter restored the accounts of several other controversial, previously banned or suspended users, including conservative Canadian podcaster Jordan Peterson, right-leaning satire website Babylon Bee, comedian Kathy Griffin and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Ahead of restoring Trump’s Twitter account, Musk posted a poll asking the platform’s users if Trump should be reinstated — where a slim majority (51.8%) voted in favor of it.

“The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated,” Musk tweeted. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” (Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”).

Trump has previously said he would remain on his own platform, Truth Social, instead of rejoining Twitter, and has yet to tweet since his account came back online.

But a change in his approach could hold major political implications as Trump has said he will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Musk goes onto to grant ‘amnesty’ to most previously banned accounts

After conducting yet another Twitter poll, Musk said on Nov. 24 that he will begin restoring most previously banned accounts on Twitter starting next week. This would mark his most far-reaching move yet to undo the social media platform’s policy of permanently suspending users who repeatedly violated its rules.

The Thanksgiving Day announcement came after most respondents voted in favor of his poll over whether to offer “general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.”

Once again, Musk tweeted that “the people have spoken.”

His recent decisions to reinstate previously banned accounts, based on the results of his polls on the platform, is notably at odds with how Musk previously said he would handle such choices.

Just a day after his takeover of Twitter, Musk said that the social media company “will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints.”

“No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes,” Musk added

It is not immediately clear if that council was ever created, convened, or involved in the decision-making behind bringing back Trump and formerly banned accounts.

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Clare Duffy contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Social Media/Technology

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