March 28, 2023

Musk floats paid Twitter endorsement, fire

Billionaire Elon Musk is already floating big changes on Twitter — and he’s facing big hurdles as he begins his first week as owner of the social media platform.

Twitter’s new owner dismissed the company’s board and made himself the sole member of the board, according to the company, which submitted an application to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday.

He’s also testing the waters by asking users to pay for confirmation. A venture capitalist who works with Musk tweeted a survey asking how much users would be willing to pay for a blue check mark, which Twitter has historically used to verify higher-profile accounts so other users know it’s really them.

Musk, whose account has been verified, replied: “Interesting.”

Critics have derided the badge, often awarded to celebrities, politicians, business executives and journalists, as an elite status symbol.

But Twitter also uses the blue checkmark to validate activists and people who suddenly find themselves in the news, as well as little-known journalists from small publications around the world as an additional tool to prevent misinformation from impersonating accounts.

“The entire verification process is being overhauled right now,” Musk tweeted on Sunday in response to a user asking for help getting verified.

Meanwhile, on Friday, billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said he and his Kingdom Holding Company topped a combined $1.89 billion in Twitter stock, making them the company’s largest shareholder after Musk. The news raised concerns among some lawmakers, including Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut.

Murphy tweeted that he is asking the Committee on Foreign Investment — which reviews purchases of US companies by foreign buyers — to investigate the national security implications of the kingdom’s investment in Twitter.

“We should be concerned that the Saudis, who clearly have a vested interest in stifling political speech and influencing US policy, are now the second largest owner of a major social media platform,” Murphy tweeted. “There is a clear national security issue at stake, and CFIUS should conduct a review.”

After taking ownership of the social media service, Musk has invited a group of tech friends and investors to help guide the San Francisco-based company’s transformation, which will likely include a shakeup of its staff. Musk fired CEO Parag Agrawal and other senior executives last week.

There has been uncertainty about whether and when he might begin more widespread layoffs.

“I think there will be a lot of layoffs,” said Matthew Faulkner, an assistant professor of economics at San Jose State University. Faulkner noted the need for cost-cutting after Musk bought Twitter at a premium, and the platform’s long-term struggles trying to turn a profit. But Musk may also want to weed out employees who don’t believe in his mission as quickly as possible, so that those who remain will feel more secure.

“You don’t want frantically scared employees working for you,” Faulkner said. “It doesn’t motivate people.”

Those who have revealed that they are helping Musk include Sriram Krishna, a partner at the private equity firm Andreessen Horowitz, who pledged back in the spring to participate in Musk’s plan to buy the company and take it private.

Krishnan, who is also a former Twitter product manager, said in a tweet that it is a “very important company and can have a big impact on the world and Elon is the person to make it happen.”

Jason Calacanis, the venture capitalist who tweeted a question about whether users would pay for verification, said over the weekend that he’s “comfortable on Twitter and just trying to be as helpful as possible in the transition.”

Calacanis said the team already has “a very comprehensive plan to reduce the number (and visibility) of bots, spammers and bad actors on the platform.” And in a Twitter poll, he asked whether users would pay $5 to $15 a month to be “verified and blue-checked” on Twitter. Twitter is currently free for most users because it relies on advertising for revenue.

Musk agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion in April, but it wasn’t until Thursday night that he finally got the deal after his attempts to back out led to a protracted legal battle with the company. Musk’s lawyers are now asking the Delaware Court of Chancery to dismiss the case, according to a court filing released Monday. The parties were due to go to court in November if they did not complete a deal by the end of last week.

Since the beginning of this year, Musk has made several statements about fixing Twitter, and it remains unclear which proposals he prioritizes.

He has promised to cut some of Twitter’s content restrictions to promote free speech, but said on Friday that no major decisions on content or the reinstatement of banned accounts would be made until a “content review board” was formed from different perspectives. He later elaborated on the remark, tweeting “anyone suspended for petty and questionable reasons will be released from Twitter Jail.”

The head of the cryptocurrency exchange, which invested $500 million in Musk’s Twitter business, said he had several reasons to support the deal, including the possibility of turning Twitter into a cryptocurrency-backed company and the Web3 concept that many cryptocurrency enthusiasts envision. As the next generation of the Internet.

“We want to make sure crypto has a place at the table when it comes to free speech,” Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao told CNBC on Monday. “And there are other tactical things, like we want to help bring Twitter to Web3 when they’re ready.”

He said the cryptocurrency could be useful in solving some of Musk’s immediate challenges, such as a plan to charge a premium membership fee for more users.

“It can be done very easily, globally, using cryptocurrency as a means of payment,” he said.


Associated Press Writer Randall Chase contributed to this story.

Matt O’brien and Barbara Ortutay, Associated Press

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