Twitter owner Elon Musk pleaded with advertisers to keep using his platform on Wednesday as he outlined his plans for user verification, content moderation and even plans to add banking features to Twitter ahead a live audience of over 100,000 users.
During an hour-long Twitter Spaces session featuring representatives from Adidas, Chevron, Kate Spade, Nissan and Walgreens, Musk said he wanted Twitter “to be a force that moves civilization into a positive direction”.
An indicator of success, he said, would be whether his decisions lead to growth in users and advertising, while failure would mean the opposite.
The set of major advertisers and brands listening to Musk’s remarks pointed to the intense interest – and perception of risk – generated by Musk’s erratic management of the company over the past week, from launch (and then not -launch) from product changes to its massive layoffs that affected half the company.
To his critics and the companies that suspended advertising on Twitter, Musk asked to be given a chance.
“I understand if people want to give it a minute and see how things develop,” he said. “But really, the best way to see how things are changing is to use Twitter. And see how your experience has changed. Is it better? Is it worse?”
Musk has repeatedly urged skeptics to use the platform while answering questions about his proposal to offer blue ticks to users who agree to pay $8 a month – a plan whose rollout has been marred by uncertainty and abrupt changes.
Users who pay for Twitter Blue, the platform’s subscription service, won’t be required to provide identifying information other than a credit card and phone number, Musk confirmed. Twitter will eventually show tweets from Twitter Blue followers by default, while tweets from users who don’t pay for a blue tick, he said, would be relegated to a separate page on the site and effectively buried unless the viewers are not looking for this material.
Brands will have to foot the bill for their own Twitter Blue verification, Musk said. He didn’t go into detail about a separate gray verification badge that Twitter is developing for big brands, government accounts and media – a feature the company says won’t be available for purchase but rather given to high-level accounts to distinguish them from those who have paid for blue ticks. On Wednesday, Twitter briefly appeared to have rolled out the gray tick feature for some users, though Musk tweeted shortly after that it “killed” it. A Twitter product manager working on the feature left the door open for its eventual release.
Musk also argued, unlike some of his critics, that well-resourced fake news and disinformation purveyors would not be able to outsmart the system because they would quickly run out of phone numbers and credit cards, or would eventually tire of the effort.
Musk sought to distill many of the challenges of running a social media platform into a binary.
“Thinking of it as an information problem, truth is signal and lies are noise,” he said. “And we want to improve the signal-to-noise ratio as much as possible.”
Musk’s expansive plans for Twitter include adding financial products to the mix. It could start, he said, with Twitter allowing users to pay themselves through the platform, with the company giving each user an initial $10 gift to test it out. Over time, Musk added, Twitter will offer users the ability to transfer money from its system to third-party banks and then market its own banking services.
“The next step would be a money market account so you can get an extremely high return on your balance,” Musk said, adding that debit cards and checks could also be part of the plan.
Last week, Twitter submitted registration documents to the US government indicating its intention to join the payments industry and comply with certain banking regulations. A copy of the documents seen by CNN showed that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network received the registration filing for “Twitter Payments LLC” on November 4. A FinCEN spokesperson declined to comment on Twitter’s filing, which was first reported by The New York Times on Wednesday.
Musk acknowledged brands’ concerns about the presence of hate speech and other offensive content on the platform.
“I don’t think having hate speech next to an ad is great, obviously,” he said with a chuckle.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of integrity and safety, said Twitter was increasing its investment in ideas to combat hateful content.
“We think there are a lot of other things we can do, from warning messages to interstitials, to narrowing the reach of this content, that we haven’t fully explored in the past” , said Roth, promising to implement these ideas quickly. Twitter has implemented many of these measures in the past, particularly in response to the election and Covid-19 misinformation.
Musk said he and his teams are working to modify much of Twitter’s existing codebase, in part to support new features like long-form video. The feature, he said, will initially allow paid users to download 10 minutes of high-definition video before gradually extending that time to 40 minutes and then to several hours.
And he highlighted the importance of Community Notes, formerly known as Birdwatch, a crowdsourced fact-checking feature that Twitter has been testing with some of its users.
Community ratings, he said, “will remove the need for a lot of the content that’s currently in place, I think.”
The extensive question-and-answer session at times delved into the metaphorical and the philosophical.
At one point, Musk seemed to recognize that his commitment to “free speech” was not absolute.
“There is a huge difference between freedom of expression and freedom of access,” he said.
Musk also described Twitter’s existing verification system as a “lords and peasants situation” and compared it to the American Revolutionary War.
“In the United States, we fought a war to get rid of this stuff,” he said. “It might be a stupid decision, but we’ll see.”
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