Questions Swirl About Potential Twitter Hack Affecting 400M Accounts
Twitter has always been somewhat chaotic, but new CEO Elon Musk is taking it to a whole new level. He’s been making dramatic changes since he bought the company for $44 billion on Oct. 27, including laying off half the staff; changing moderation and verification policies; and unbanning extremist accounts.
Here’s the most recent news about Musk’s takeover of Twitter:
Dec. 29: Twitter faces questions about claimed hack
A European watchdog is reportedly planning to investigate Twitter after a hacker claimed to have stolen private details of more than 400 million accounts. The BBC reported Thursday that Ireland’s Data Protection Commission said it will “examine Twitter’s compliance with data-protection law” in relation to concerns about the hack, details of which had been circulating around Twitter for the past few days.
The Guardian wrote on Wednesday that data included in the hack appeared to involve accounts for model Cara Delevingne, New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and pop singer Shawn Mendes.
Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment from CNET, nor, seemingly, from the BBC or Guardian either.
Hey @elonmusk, since you don’t seem to have much a media/comms team anymore, can you address the apparently legitimate claim that someone scraped & is now selling data on hundreds of millions of Twitter accounts? Maybe it didn’t happen on your watch, but you owe Twitter a reply.
— briankrebs (@briankrebs) December 27, 2022
Dec. 22: Twitter lays off more workers
Twitter isn’t done gutting its workforce. Theodora Skeadas, who worked on public policy at Twitter, tweeted that the company cut half of the company’s public policy team. One unnamed former employee told CNN Twitter’s public policy team had more than 60 employees before Musk took over. Now that team has roughly 15 employees.
Reuters also reported that Sinead McSweeney, Twitter’s global vice president for public policy, has left the company. The departures are the latest in a string of massive job cuts to hit Twitter as Musk looks to cut more costs. He’s reportedly cut staff from more than 7,000 to less than 2,000. The layoffs and departure of key executives have raised questions about whether Twitter can survive.
Twitter and McSweeney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. California’s Employment Development Department said it’s looking into whether Twitter filed a notice about the layoffs.
Dec 20: Musk says he’ll resign as CEO
Musk tweeted he would step down as CEO as soon as he finds “someone foolish enough to take the job!” He added that he will still remain at the company to “run the software & servers teams.”
The announcement came after the majority of Twitter users who voted in a poll said Musk should step down from the job.
Dec. 19: Twitter users vote for Musk to step down
Roughly 17.5 million Twitter users voted in a poll asking if Musk should step down. About 57.5% of those polled voted yes and 42.5% voted no.
Twitter users also weighed in on whether the company should “have a policy preventing the creation of or use of existing accounts for the main purpose of advertising other social media platforms?” Roughly 87% of 326,890 users who voted said no.
Dec. 18: Twitter bans links to rival social networks, reverses policy after outcry
Twitter said it would ban links to alternative social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Nostr and Post and suspend accounts that tried to direct users to these sites.
After user backlash, Twitter deleted the new policy against promoting alternative social media sites and created a poll about the idea.
“Going forward, there will be a vote for major policy changes. My apologies. Won’t happen again,” Musk tweeted.
Musk also created a poll asking if he should step down as head of Twitter.
Dec. 17: Journalists’ accounts begin reappearing
Musk tweeted that accounts suspended in relation to his dispute with @ElonJet would have their suspensions lifted, based on a public poll he’d conducted on Twitter. As of Dec. 17, @ElonJet remained suspended but some journalists’ accounts had reappeared, along with Twitter rival Mastodon’s. CNN reported on Dec. 17 that though the journalists’ accounts were again visible, the journalists aren’t allowed to tweet until they remove certain @ElonJet-related posts that Musk claims go against Twitter’s rules (the journalists dispute Musk’s claim).
Twitter, which no longer has a communications department, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the CNN report. The abrupt suspensions and Musk’s conflicting remarks have made it even harder to figure out how Twitter’s content moderation works — more on that here.
Dec. 15: Musk suspends journalists on Twitter
Twitter suddenly suspended the accounts of several tech journalists, including reporters for CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Many of the reporters had recently tweeted about Musk’s dispute with the @ElonJet account, which tracked his private plane using publicly available data. That account had been suspended on Dec. 14, and Musk tweeted on Dec. 15 that the same rule that applied in that case applied to journalists as well, adding later that the suspensions would last seven days.
The suspensions sparked an outcry, with the president of the Society of Professional Journalists saying, “Twitter’s action affects all journalists and goes against Musk’s promise to uphold free speech on the platform.” European officials also voiced concerns. The vice president for values and transparency for the European Commission called the suspensions “worrying.” An account that helped Twitter users sign up at rival social network Mastodon was also suspended on Dec. 15. ElonJet has an account on Mastodon. Read the full story on the suspensions here.
Dec. 14: @ElonJet account gets suspended
The Twitter account @ElonJet, which tracked Elon Musk’s private plane using publicly available flight tracking data, was suspended. The program was created by University of Central Florida student Jack Sweeney, who highlighted the change on his personal account and noted that Twitter had previously limited @ElonJet’s visibility on the platform. Sweeney’s personal account has been suspended as well, along with a bunch of other flight tracker accounts.
Last month, Musk said his commitment to free speech was so strong that the account wouldn’t be banned even though he considered it a “direct personal safety risk.”
In a tweet, Musk explained his change of stance, saying, “real-time posting of someone else’s location violates doxxing policy, but delayed posting of locations are ok.”
Twitter’s Private information and media policy page says live location information like travel routes is a violation of its policy. It appears this is a change that happened on Dec. 14: An archived version of the page found on Wayback Machine and dated Dec. 13 doesn’t include this information.
Sweeney’s program remains available on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. It also posted on open-source social network Mastodon for the first time.
Neither Twitter nor Sweeney responded to requests for comment.
Dec 12: Twitter disbands Trust and Safety Council
Twitter is dissolving its Trust and Safety Council, which included expert organizations who advised the company on issues such as online safety, harassment, child sexual exploitation and other important topics.
A page for the council is no longer available but an archived version showed the council was made up of the Anti-Defamation League, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Trevor Project and more. The move comes after three members of the council resigned because of user safety concerns and it raises questions about how Twitter will properly tackle harmful content moving forward.
In an email seen by various media outlets including CNN and The Washington Post, Twitter told members of its Trust and Safety Council that it’s reassessing the best way to “bring external insights” into its “product and policy development work.”
“As part of this process, we have decided that the Trust and Safety Council is not the best structure to do this,” the e-mail said, noting that it’s committed to safety on the platform. Twitter, which no longer has a communications department, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter relaunches subscription service
Twitter relaunched its subscription service Twitter Blue, charging $11 per month for Apple device users and $8 per month for those who use the web version of the platform. Twitter Blue includes features such as a way to edit a tweet and a blue checkmark once the company reviews the account. The social network dealt with a flood of imposter accounts when it started revamping its verification system but Twitter made changes to help tackle the problem. A Twitter user’s account must be at least 90 days old and confirm their phone number to subscribe to Twitter Blue.
The company also started rolling out gold badges for businesses and plans to identify government organizations with gray check marks. Musk reiterated in a tweet that he plans to get rid of blue check marks for users previously verified for being notable, active and authentic in a few months.
Dec. 10: Twitter Blue to relaunch, with blue check marks, ‘review’ process
In a tweet thread, the social network said its Twitter Blue subscription service would relaunch on Dec. 12 and that subscribers will get a blue check mark once their account “has been reviewed.” It didn’t, however, give details about the vetting process. The social network’s longstanding blue verification badge, featuring a check mark, was originally designed to show that verified users actually are who they say they are. And Musk’s desire to tie the badge to a paid subscription prompted critics to call the authentication symbol meaningless. Musk’s strategy also led to chaos when Twitter Blue was initially relaunched and some subscribers hid behind the check marks to impersonate others (including Musk himself). The service was put on hold but will now, apparently, reappear. More details here.
Dec. 8: Musk promises to tell Twitter users if they’ve been shadow banned
Musk said the company is working on a process to inform Twitter users whether their tweets have been suppressed under a process known as shadow banning and let them appeal the situation. The announcement came as journalist Bari Weiss published screenshots of company documents suggesting Twitter employees downplayed conservative voices on the platform.
“Twitter is working on a software update that will show your true account status,” Musk said in a tweet. “So you know clearly if you’ve been shadowbanned, the reason why and how to appeal.”
Like other social media sites, Twitter has been accused of suppressing certain types of political speech on the platform — a practice referred to as shadowbanning, in which a comment or post is made visible only to the user who created it.
Dec. 7: Twitter will reportedly increase Blue pricing on Apple devices
Twitter told employees that it intends to charge $7 a month for its Twitter Blue premium service if subscribers pay for it online, according to The Information. Musk previously suggested it would cost $8 a month.
However, the report also noted that Twitter Blue would cost $11 for people who subscribe through the iPhone app. The price increase seems like a reaction to the 30% cut Apple takes on iOS purchases.
Neither Apple nor Twitter immediately responded to requests for comment.
Dec. 3: Apple reportedly resumes Twitter ad campaigns
Apple has “fully resumed” its advertising on Twitter, according to Bloomberg. The company reportedly spends more than $100 million to advertise on the platform each year. Bloomberg’s report came after Musk met with Apple boss Tim Cook, with the Musk also tweeting his thanks to advertisers for returning to the site.
Amazon paused some of its advertising campaigns on Twitter, according to tech outlet Platformer’s Zoë Schiffer. but is reportedly planning to increase ad spending on the platform to $100 million annually.
Neither Twitter nor Apple responded to requests for comment. Amazon declined to comment.
Dec 2: Researchers say hate speech surged on Twitter after Musk takeover
Researchers are pushing back against Musk’s claim that hate speech has declined on the platform since he purchased the company.
Tweets containing hateful slurs rose after Musk took over the social media platform on Oct. 27, according to research from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate.
Researchers compared the average daily tweets from the week before Musk’s takeover (Sept. 27 to Oct. 26) to the week up to Musk’s claim about hate speech falling (Nov. 18 to Nov. 24). A slur used against Black people was in 30,546 tweets, triple the rate before Musk’s takeover, the research showed. Tweets with slurs against gay men, transgender people, Jewish people and Latinos also increased during that time period.
Researchers used data from Brandwatch, a social media analytics company, and the numbers included original tweets, quote tweets and retweets. The tweets the group analyzed came from various places across the world but included only those in English.
Musk disputed the claim on Twitter, posting a chart covering Oct. 17 to Nov. 30. He said data showed the number of hate speech “impressions,” which he defined as the number of times a tweet was viewed, has declined. The chart shows hate speech impressions at slightly more than 2.5 million at the end of November. Musk didn’t provide details about how Twitter defined hate speech or how it measured these impressions.
Nov. 30: Musk tweets he met with Apple CEO, tries to reassure brands
Musk tweeted that he met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and toured the iPhone maker’s headquarters. Musk has been criticizing Apple this week, alleging without offering evidence that the company censors voices, has a “secret 30% tax” on App Store purchases and threatened to withhold Twitter from the App store. Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment about Musk’s tweet.
“Good conversation,” Musk said in a separate tweet. “Among other things, we resolved the misunderstanding about Twitter potentially being removed from the App Store. Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so.”
Musk appears to be trying to reassure brands that might be wary about advertising on Twitter. Musk also retweeted a Twitter blog post that states brand safety is still one of the company’s top priorities and none of Twitter’s policies has changed. But the company has stopped enforcing its rules against misleading COVID-19 information, and Musk has said he would grant “amnesty” to suspended accounts, allowing them to return to the site if “they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.”
EU warns Musk that Twitter faces potential ban
Thierry Breton, the European Union’s commissioner for the internal market, told Musk that Twitter could be banned in the region or hit with a fine of up to 6% of its global turnover if the company doesn’t stick to the EU’s rules on content moderation, according to the Financial Times.
Twitter must adhere to the Digital Services Act, said Breton, who apparently told Musk he must end his “arbitrary” approach to reinstating banned users, must pursue disinformation “aggressively” and must agree to an “extensive independent audit” of Twitter by next year. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Breton told Musk that Twitter had “huge work ahead” to comply with European regulations, according to a readout of a video call between the two provided by Breton’s office. The Commission is expected to conduct a “stress test” at Twitter’s headquarters in 2023 “to target compliance even ahead of legal deadlines, and to prepare for an extensive independent audit.”
Twitter restores Irish exec to job after court intervenes
Sinead McSweeney has been reinstated to her role as Twitter’s global vice president for public policy, the Journal.ie reported. She got a temporary injunction from Ireland’s High Court preventing the company from firing her.
McSweeney reasoned that she never resigned, but Twitter acted like she was no longer an employee at the company after she didn’t respond to Musk’s Nov. 16 email. The email reportedly demanded that all workers click “yes” to confirm their continued employment at the company. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Nov. 29: COVID-19 misinformation policy dropped
Like other social media platforms, Twitter spent the last few years battling misleading information about COVID-19, whether it was about fake remedies or about dangerous conspiracy theories regarding vaccines. But Twitter is no longer enforcing its policy against misleading COVID-19 information as of Nov. 23.
The company did so quietly, and the policy update wasn’t spotted for several days until CNN, Twitter users and a few other publications noticed it. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment and elaboration on the policy change.
Twitter Blue rollout reportedly delayed
The launch of tweaked subscription service Twitter Blue has been pushed back, according to The Verge and Platformer, in an attempt to avoid Apple’s 30% cut of App Store purchases. This followed Musk tweeting criticism of Apple. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Former exec condemns Musk management style
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, said he left the company because he knew Musk’s edict-focused leadership would ultimately allow a “disaster” like Twitter Blue verification to roll out despite his team’s advice. Roth warned that the company is not safe with Musk at its helm. Roth’s new comments follow his Nov. 18 New York Times op-ed criticizing Musk’s approach.
Nov. 28: One employee left on child safety team
After widespread layoffs and resignations, a team tasked with identifying and removing child sexual abuse content from the site now has only one staffer, according to Wired. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were on the team previously, but Wired said it had identified four Singapore-based child safety specialists who said they left the company in November.
The team, based at Twitter’s Asian headquarters in Singapore, is responsible for enforcing the company’s ban on child sexual abuse material — an ongoing and frustrating battle for the social network. Twitter, which makes most of its money from selling advertising, said in September it was investigating how ads from major brands appeared on profiles that were soliciting or selling child sexual abuse content.
Twitter representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Congressional Republicans saw uptick in followers
In the first few weeks of Musk’s ownership of Twitter, several high-profile Republican members of Congress saw their user profiles gain followers, while some of their Democratic counterparts experienced a decline, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan gained more than 300,000 each, while Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders all lost about 100,000 Twitter followers, the Post reported. The newspaper said it couldn’t identify what caused the change but pointed out it’s in line with a trend that started when Musk announced in April his intention to buy Twitter.
Nov. 27: Twitter flooded with spam that obscured Chinese COVID-19 protest tweets
Twitter is grappling with spam tweets after protests about COVID-19 restrictions erupted in China.
The Washington Post and TechCrunch reported that tweets from Chinese-language Twitter accounts that had been inactive for months started tweeting links to escort, porn and gambling services along with names of major Chinese cities. That meant that when a Twitter user tried to search for a city in China, their search results were filled with spam and they had a tougher time finding tweets about the protests. The issue comes as Twitter has a smaller team to handle this problem. The Washington Post reported that employees estimate that the company’s workforce has been slashed from 7,500 to 2,000 people.
Researchers have been keeping a close eye on the Chinese spam. Stanford Internet Observatory Director Alex Stamos tweeted that his team is working on their own analysis.
Still working on our own analysis, but here is some good initial data that points to this being an intentional attack to throw up informational chaff and reduce external visibility into protests in China (Twitter being blocked for most PRC citizens):https://t.co/kPK7nMeCPu
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) November 28, 2022
Nov. 26: Musk notes “We’re recruiting”
Must tweeted a collection of slides late Saturday, the first of which noted “we’re recruiting” — after weeks of layoffs, resignations and other defections at the company. Musk again claimed engagement is surging on Twitter, sharing slides that claimed new signups and active minutes have recently hit record highs. (The figures couldn’t be independently verified.) He also reiterated his ambitions to make Twitter into an “everything app,” sharing mockups of features like encrypted direct messages, longform tweets and payments.
Musk also has personally called the CEOs of major brands that halted advertising on Twitter, according to the Financial Times, which cited an unnamed source. Other brands reduced their spending to a minimum rather than cutting it off entirely in order to avoid confrontation with Musk, the FT reported.
Nov. 25: Color-coded ‘verified’ check marks coming Dec. 2
Just after midnight Friday, Musk tweeted his newest concept for verification, which is set to go live on Dec. 2. Check mark badges will come in three colors: gold for companies, gray for governments and blue for individuals “celebrity or not.” Musk is lumping both noted individuals and Twitter Blue subscribers together in the blue check bucket, though individuals can also have a smaller secondary logo showing “they belong to an org if verified as such by that org,” Musk explained in a follow-up tweet.
Musk has been fiddling with verified check marks since he took over. He first tried an $8-per-month Twitter Blue subscription that blurred the line between authenticated individuals and paid accounts, leading to a slew of people impersonating celebrities and corporations that caused mayhem. Then Twitter added gray check marks for “official” accounts of governments, media outlets, business partners and “some public figures,” but then removed the checks as the company dithered on who would get the “official” label.
The new three-color scheme seems designed to reduce impersonations while preserving subscriber revenue.
Musk also noted that “all verified accounts will be manually authenticated before check activates,” though it’s unclear whether this will be done entirely by Twitter or if users will be involved in authenticating their identity. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. Musk noted that a longer explanation will be coming next week.
Later in the day Musk floated the possibility of creating his own smartphone if Apple and Google decide to boot Twitter from their respective platforms. “I certainly hope it does not come to that, but, yes, if there is no other choice, I will make an alternative phone,” he tweeted in a response to a question about the scenario.
Musk offered few other details, but the creation of not just a smartphone, but a rival mobile platform that gets around the Apple App Store and Google Play Store is incredibly difficult, requiring a combination of custom hardware and software.
Considering how stitched Elon is between Twitter, SpaceX and Tesla, getting into the phone business might not be the best idea.
Nov. 24: Musk announces ‘amnesty,’ also fires engineers before Thanksgiving
After tweeting a non-scientific poll a day earlier, Musk announced the results on Thursday. More than 72% of 3.16 million respondents voted “yes” to the question: “Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?”
“The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” he tweeted Thursday, referencing a Latin phrase that translates as “voice of the people, voice of God.”
Separately, Musk may be in the running for this year’s Ebenezer Scrooge award after reportedly firing roughly 50 engineers right before Thanksgiving, according to tech newsletter Platformer. The newsletter was corroborating a report from The Verge that some Twitter engineers received emails on Wednesday saying they’d been fired because their “code is not satisfactory.” Twitter engineers had earlier been told to send code samples to Musk. His “hardcore” approach to work is widely known within Silicon Valley, including at his other companies where he’s demanded “minimum” 40-hour workweeks from staff.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that Twitter disbanded its office in Brussels, Belgium, after leaders there exited the company. The FT said two of the executives had led Twitter’s efforts to comply with the EU’s Digital Services Act, which sets rules around content moderation, among other things. Others reportedly managed the company’s relationship with European regulators.
Twitter didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Nov. 23: Musk could reinstate more suspended accounts
Musk floated the idea of offering “a general amnesty to suspended accounts” as long as they haven’t broken the law or engaged in “egregious spam.”
In a tweet, Musk polled users about the idea. It’s unclear how many accounts this potential change would cover, but some users have raised concerns that doing so would result in more hate speech and other harmful content spreading on the platform.
Musk has been bringing back accounts that Twitter suspended for violating its rules against hateful conduct, COVID misinformation and glorification of violence. He reinstated former US President Donald Trump’s account after polling users about the idea. Twitter suspended Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots because the platform feared his tweets could incite more violence.
Nov. 22: Musk taps iPhone hacker for help
George Hotz, a hacker known for being the first person to jailbreak an iPhone in 2007 and founding autonomous driving startup Comma.ai, accepted a 12-week “internship” at Twitter to help improve the social media network’s search functions. Hotz and Musk have had a complicated relationship. Hotz has claimed he turned down a job to work at Tesla, while Musk has dismissed the notion that Hotz and Comma.ai could create a better autonomous driving system than Tesla’s Autopilot.
Meanwhile, Twitter is undergoing a cost-cutting campaign that The New York Times reports includes refusing to pay vendors for outstanding bills. The cost cuts are targeting infrastructure, travel expenses, software services and real estates, the Times reports, citing multiple unnamed sources.
At the same time, The Washington Post and industry watchers Pathmatics and Media Matters For America reported that as many as half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers have either announced or seemingly stopped spending on the platform.
Nov. 21: Even more account bans lift, Musk holds off on paid verification relaunch
Still more once-suspended accounts continued to have their bans lifted. On Nov. 21, US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal Twitter account was unlocked, 10 months after being permanently suspended for violating Twitter’s COVID misinformation policy. But amid the parade of restored accounts, Musk claimed one ban will remain in place: Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Later in the day, Musk tweeted that Twitter is “holding off” the relaunch of paid verification through its Twitter Blue subscription service until “there is high confidence of stopping impersonation.” Twitter paused the new verification system earlier in November after users who purchased the verified blue check marks posed as major brands, politicians, athletes and other celebrities. Twitter was expected to relaunch paid verification on Nov. 29. Musk tweeted that the company will probably use a different color check mark for organizations versus individuals.
Nov. 20: More suspended accounts revived, World Cup begins
After Musk reversed former US President Donald Trump’s permanent ban, more suspended accounts came back online, including that of Kanye West. Known as Ye after changing his name last year, West tweeted to his 32 million followers for the first time in two weeks, after he had been locked out for an antisemitic threat.
Project Veritas, a conservative activist group known for hidden-camera videos, was also reinstated, after being suspended last year for disclosing people’s personal information, a charge it denied.
Separately, the FIFA World Cup kicked off. The event typically spurs spikes in Twitter usage, as people around the world converge to revel in real-time updates and posts related to its matches. In the flood of usage, worries persisted that Twitter might be tripped up by outages and disruptions as it copes with operating with a fraction of its usual staff. But the first day of the tournament seemed to proceed without Twitter experiencing any major incidents.
Nov. 19: Musk lets Trump back on Twitter
Elon Musk’s long-expected reversal of Trump’s permanent ban from Twitter came true, opening the door for the controversial politician to regain his social media megaphone.
Musk had polled users on Twitter about whether Trump should be allowed back onto the platform. The final results of that poll showed 51.8% in favor of reinstating Trump and 48.2% against.
“The people have spoken,” Musk tweeted. “Trump will be reinstated.” An account with the familiar name @realDonaldTrump showed up on the site. Twitter, like other social networks, had booted Trump after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots.
Separately, Bloomberg reported that Musk is considering firing more employees on the sales and partnership side. He reportedly asked leaders, including Robin Wheeler, the head of sales and marketing, to fire more employees. Wheeler refused and lost her job (she lists herself as an ex-Twitter sales exec on her profile).
Twitter, which has laid off its communications department, didn’t respond to a question sent to its press email.
Nov. 18: Musk asks engineers to come to the office. Previously banned accounts get reinstated
Twitter employees were locked out of the company’s headquarters, but Musk reportedly sent an email asking for some software engineers to head back into the office, according to Bloomberg. Musk asked the coders to meet with him and provide examples of their coding work in order to help him better understand the software.
Musk tweeted about the company’s policy on speech saying certain tweets will not have “freedom of reach.”
“Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter,” he said. “You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of internet.”
Screenshot by CNET
Musk followed that tweet with another saying conservative media personality Jordan Peterson, right-wing satire site The Babylon Bee and comedian Kathy Griffin will have their banned accounts reinstated. Twitter booted Peterson and The Babylon Bee from the platform earlier in the year over anti-trans tweets while Griffin had her account suspended last week for changing it into a Musk parody account.
Musk also tweeted that Twitter hasn’t made a decision regarding former President Donald Trump’s account, but Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety at Twitter, said in a New York Times opinion piece published Nov. 18 that the ex-president’s reinstatement was “near certainty.” Twitter banned Trump from its platform in 2021 because of concerns his remarks could spark more violence after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot.
Roth, who resigned from the company, wrote how Musk called for more censoring of tweets after a surge of hate speech showed up on the platform following his takeover. He also went on to explain the need for content moderation was not only important to keep advertisers happy, but it also was needed to appease app store owners and government entities, such as the European Union, that have laws against hate speech.
In a 24-hour poll on Twitter, Musk asked users if Trump’s account should be reinstated.
Twitter users are still worried about the platform’s potential death, especially ahead of high-traffic events such as the FIFA World Cup that kicks off on Nov. 20. The New York Times, citing three people close to the company, reported that some estimates showed that at least 1,200 employees resigned on Nov. 17 after Musk gave them a choice to stay or leave.
User safety is another big concern on Twitter. CNN reporter Oliver Darcy tweeted that the White House is asking Twitter to explain how it’s safeguarding “the safety of Americans’ online data.” The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nov. 17: Twitter users fear end is near. Musk locks office doors. Many employees take severance. Senators want investigation
Twitter users started tweeting farewell remarks as #RIPTwitter trended on the platform in the US and other parts of the world.
Fears about a potential collapse of the site came after hundreds of employees decided to leave the company earlier in the day. One former Twitter employee told The Washington Post that there’s no longer a “skeleton crew manning the system.”
Twitter “will continue to coast until it runs into something, and then it will stop,” the employee said.
Musk tweeted a meme with Twitter’s logo on a gravestone.
The remaining 3,500 or so employees who were left at Twitter after thousands were laid off had a choice to make at the end of the day on Nov. 17: Remain under Musk’s plan for an intense “Twitter 2.0” or leave with three months of severance pay.
Up to 75% of remaining employees chose the exit, according to Fortune and Bloomberg, creating confusion about how many remaining people would have access to the offices. The Verge reported that those who left included some “legendary” engineers and coders.
Around the same time, the company apparently locked the doors to its San Francisco headquarters until Nov. 21, according to tech newsletter Platformer.
Twitter, which may no longer have a public relations department, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
All of this occurred after Musk softened his stance on how he wanted to run the new Twitter, at least somewhat. An email sent to Twitter employees on Nov. 9 said remote work would be banned, but an email to employees on Nov. 17 stated that remote work is possible if approved, according to a report from Bloomberg.
“All that is required for approval is that your manager takes responsibility for ensuring that you are making an excellent contribution,” Musk said in the email. He also wants employees to have in-person team meetings at least once a month.
Scoop: I am hearing far fewer than expected devs hit “yes”.
Elon sent out an email relaxing remote working from the former draconian policy.
I’m hearing he is having meetings w top engineers to convince them to stay.
Sounds like playing hardball does not work. Ofc it doesn’t. https://t.co/VrPEn4IwBG
— Gergely Orosz (@GergelyOrosz) November 17, 2022
Twitter is also facing more scrutiny from US lawmakers. A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Lina Khan, the chairwoman of the US Federal Trade Commission. Outlined in the letter are what the legislators described as “alarming steps” taken by Musk including new features that have been used by scammers, an increase in hate speech and the removal of cybersecurity executives within the company, potentially putting users’ personal data at risk.
The senators point out that these actions could place the company in violation of the FTC’s consent decree to protect this data as part of a settlement with the commission in 2011.
“We urge the Commission to vigorously oversee its consent decree with Twitter and to bring enforcement actions against any breaches or business practices that are unfair or deceptive, including bringing civil penalties and imposing liability on individual Twitter executives where appropriate,” the senators said.
Among the seven senators who signed the letter are Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Twitter violated the consent decree in May when the FTC found the company used security data like phone numbers and email addresses to target advertising at users. This led to a $150 million settlement paid by Twitter.
Musk appeared to end the day poking fun at his earlier warning that Twitter may go bankrupt.
How do you make a small fortune in social media?
Start out with a large one.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022
Twitter has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Nov. 16: Musk demands ‘hardcore’ work culture. Dorsey’s ‘nope’
Musk emailed all staff to outline his vision for “Twitter 2.0,” which will require an “extremely hardcore” culture, with long hours and high intensity, according to Pragmatic Engineer writer (and former Uber engineer) Gergely Orosz. Employees must agree to this on Thursday or leave with three months of severance pay.
Scoop: Elon Musk just sent an email to all staff outlining “Twitter 2.0″, writing it will”need to be extremely hardcore”. Long hours, high intensity.
People need to click “yes” to confirm being part of this by 5pm ET tomorrow, else they get 3 months severance. More details:
— Gergely Orosz (@GergelyOrosz) November 16, 2022
During testimony Wednesday over a Tesla shareholder case alleging that his salary as CEO is excessive, Musk also reportedly told the court that he does not want to be CEO of Tesla, and that his chief executive leadership of Twitter is a temporary arrangement.
“I expect to reduce my time at Twitter and find somebody else to run Twitter over time,” he said, according to CNBC.
Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment.
When a follower asked Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey if he’d consider returning as CEO, Dorsey responded with a firm “nope.” There’s no indication that he got an offer to return — the follower’s query came after Dorsey engaged in conversation about Twitter’s future and expressed confidence that the site would survive. His previous tenure as CEO ended in May 2021, and he left its board of directors in May 2022.
Nov. 15: Workers fired for speaking about Musk on Slack
Employees who criticized Elon Musk in Twitter’s Slack channels were fired overnight via email, Platformer’s Casey Newton said in a tweet. They were apparently told their “recent behavior has violated company policy.” It’s unclear how many people were affected.
Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Nov. 14: Musk wants greater Twitter video support
Speaking via video link, Musk told business leaders during the G20 summit in Bali that he wants to see Twitter support more longer-form video to bring in more content creators. He also noted that he’s been working “at the absolute most amount … from morning til night, seven days a week” since the acquisition.
Nov. 13: SpaceX reportedly buys major Twitter ad package
SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, ordered a Twitter “takeover” advertising package for its satellite internet service Starlink, CNBC reported. This will seemingly promote the service on people’s Twitter timelines in Spain and Australia and can cost more than $250,000. It comes after some advertisers paused campaigns due to the upheaval at Twitter.
SpaceX didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Nov. 12: Thousands of contract employees seemingly terminated
Twitter cut thousands of contract employees, according to Platformer’s Casey Newton, Axios and CNBC, with Newton reporting that around 4,400 of Twitter’s roughly 5,500 contractors were affected. Most didn’t get any notice and found out because they lost access to the company’s email and internal communications systems, Newton reported.
The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Nov. 11: Twitter Blue subscription option vanishes
The option to sign up for the $8 a month subscription service Twitter Blue is no longer available on Twitter’s iOS app, as earlier reported by The Verge. The shift comes days after the service launched for Apple devices and prior to its Android launch. Attempting to subscribe on desktop directs you to the iOS app.
CNET can confirm that this manifests in two distinct ways: the option to subscribe has vanished from the sidebar, and tapping the link gives you an error message.
Trying to subscribe to Twitter Blue on the iOS app resulted in this message on Nov. 11.
Twitter/Screenshot by CNET
“Thank you for your interest!” it reads. “Twitter Blue will be available in your country in the future. Please check back later.”
It’s unclear why the company paused signups for the service, but a large number of users reportedly bought verification to impersonate brands and celebrities. An internal note posted on Slack said it stopped people from subscribing “to help address impersonation issues,” according to Platformer’s Zoë Schiffer.
Twitter didn’t respond to CNET’s request for comment.
Nov. 10: Musk bans remote work and warns of bankruptcy, attorney says he’s risking billions in FTC fines
Musk sent his first emails to employees on Nov. 9, warning that “the economic picture ahead is dire.” He banned remote work unless he personally approved it, according to Bloomberg, while The New York Times reported that he told workers “the absolute top priority is finding and suspending any verified bots/trolls/spam.”
An attorney on Twitter’s privacy team posted a message in the company’s Slack warning that Musk’s focus on monetizing its users is making him take dangerous steps, The Verge reported. It’s apparently at particular risk of incurring billions in fines from the Federal Trade Commission in the wake of a May settlement regarding the use of personal info to target ads.
Twitter’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran; Chief Information Security Officer Lea Kissner; and Chief Compliance Officer Marianne Fogarty all resigned, The Verge noted. Kissner’s departure confirmed her departure in a tweet.
Musk also reportedly told employees bankruptcy was a possibility, Bloomberg reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. Two more Twitter executives — Yoel Roth, the company’s head of trust and safety, and Robin Wheeler, who led marketing and sales at Twitter — also resigned, according to the report. Wheeler then decided to stay at the company after Musk persuaded her to do so, Bloomberg reported. Roth, Wheeler and Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Nov. 9: Musk tries to reassure advertisers amid confusion about check marks
Twitter’s rollout of a new verification system is messy. Twitter started adding gray check marks and an “official” label to high-profile Twitter accounts but then scrapped some of the changes hours later.
In an hour-long live audio chat on Twitter later in the day, Musk said the new labels are an “aesthetic nightmare when looking at the Twitter feed” and “another way of creating a two-class system.”
Esther Crawford, who oversees early-stage products at Twitter, tweeted that the company would still be rolling out the “official” label but to government and commercial entities first. Twitter also started allowing people to add blue check marks to their profiles if they pay $8 a month for a Twitter Blue subscription. Scammers are already using the new system to create fake accounts. Twitter said it would suspend accounts engaged in deceptive tactics and impersonation.
In the audio chat, Musk discussed Twitter’s plans for a content moderation council and decisions by companies to temporarily pause their advertising campaigns on Twitter.
“I don’t think having hate speech next to an ad is great. Obviously,” he said. Musk also said he thinks it will take Twitter a couple of months to create a content moderation council.
He signaled, though, that he isn’t planning to slow down when it comes to changing Twitter.
“The rate of evolution of Twitter will be an immense step change compared to what it has been in the past,” he said. “You know, if nothing else, I am a technologist and I can make technology go fast.”
Nov. 6: Paid check marks may be pushed back, Musk cracks down on impersonation
Paid verification reportedly delayed until after election
Twitter is postponing the rollout of verification badges connected to an $8 monthly subscription service until after the midterm elections, according to The New York Times.
Impersonators get the boot
Musk warned that any Twitter account engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying that it’s parody would get hit with a permanent ban. In reaction, some users changed their names to “Elon Musk,” which led to their suspension.
Nov. 5: Paying for check marks, hearing from Dorsey
Pay-for-verification plan shows up in iOS update
Version notes for the latest iteration of Twitter’s app for the Apple iPhone showed up in the App Store, with a What’s New section that pointed to the verification feature. The notes tell users that “starting today” if you “sign up now” for an $8-a-month Twitter Blue subscription, “your account will get a blue check mark, just like the celebrities, companies, and politicians you already follow.” It appears, though, that the program hasn’t actually kicked in yet. Read more here.
Dorsey weighs in
With news reports saying Twitter had laid off about half its staff, co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey took to the service to offer words of encouragement and to place blame on himself.
“I own the responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company size too quickly. I apologize for that,” Dorsey tweeted. He also called Twitter staffers past and present “resilient” and said, “I am grateful for, and love, everyone who has ever worked on Twitter. I don’t expect that to be mutual in this moment.”
In April, Dorsey expressed his support of Musk taking over the company, but he also said that in principle, he thought no one should own or run Twitter and that it should instead be “a public good.”
Nov. 4: Musk says Twitter has had ‘massive drop’ in revenue
Since Musk’s takeover, several major advertisers, such as Tesla rival General Motors, food company General Mills and pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer, have temporarily paused their ad campaigns on Twitter. Musk tweeted that Twitter has had a “massive drop” in revenue, which he blamed on activist groups pressuring advertisers. Musk didn’t say in his tweet how much Twitter’s revenue has fallen, nor did he identify the activists. In the tweet, Musk also said Twitter hasn’t changed its content moderation policies.
Musk also made an appearance at the Baron Investment Conference, where he noted that Twitter grappled with revenue challenges before the acquisition and that he tried to get out of the deal.
His remarks came after Twitter started laying off employees. Musk later tweeted that there was “no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day.” Without specifying how many people were laid off or what percentage of the workforce, Musk added they were “offered 3 months of severance.” Reportedly, about half of Twitter’s 7,500-person work force was laid off.
Civil rights groups that met with Musk spoke out about the layoffs.
“For starters, there’s no way to keep election integrity in place if you are cutting capacity to do the monitoring in #TwitterLayoffs,” tweeted Rashad Robinson, president of racial justice group Color of Change. The group is part of #StopToxicTwitter, a coalition of more than 60 organizations that are urging major advertisers to pause spending and invest in content moderation. Partners listed on the coalition’s website include the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Volkswagen Group and others reportedly paused ad spending because of concerns that ads could appear alongside problematic content on the platform.
Nov. 3: Musk looks for ways to cut costs, lawsuit filed
Musk wants to cut costs and make Twitter less dependent on advertising.
Reuters, citing two sources familiar with the matter and an internal Slack message, reported that Musk directed Twitter’s team to find more than $1 billion in infrastructure cost savings.
The company is looking at other ways to make money outside of advertising, including “paywalled” videos and paid direct messages, The New York Times reported, citing two people with knowledge of the matter and internal documents.
Musk is already making changes to Twitter’s work culture. Bloomberg reported that Musk has removed “days of rest” from Twitter’s employee calendars and plans to cancel the company’s remote work policy. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Twitter reportedly told employees in an email that layoffs would happen. A lawsuit seeking class action status, accused Twitter of violating the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires large companies to give at least 60 days of advance notice before mass layoffs, as previously reported by Bloomberg.
Nov. 2: Musk reportedly plans to cut half of Twitter’s workforce
Musk plans to cut about 3,700 jobs at Twitter, or half of the social media company’s workforce, Bloomberg reported. Affected staffers are to be informed of their fate by Nov. 4, sources told the news outlet.
Musk also plans to reverse the company’s existing work-from-anywhere policy, requiring remaining employees to report to an office, the unidentified sources said.
In one scenario for reducing Twitter’s workforce being considered, laid off workers will be offered 60 days’ worth of severance pay. Twitter users have been bracing for layoffs since Musk announced his bid for Twitter in April. One report indicated that Musk planned to cut 75% of jobs at Twitter.
Nov. 1: Musk suggests charging for verification
In a series of tweets, Musk floated the idea that Twitter charge $8 per month for a verified blue check mark as part of its subscription plan. The company’s subscription service, known as Twitter Blue, currently costs $5 per month but doesn’t include verification as a perk.
Twitter currently doesn’t charge to verify accounts with a blue check mark, and the badge is supposed to be given out to accounts that the company determines are “notable, authentic and active.” The blue check mark is meant to help users determine if an account of a celebrity, journalist or other public figure is fake or not.
Musk tweeted that the price would be adjusted by country and that the subscription would include “priority in replies, mentions & search, which is essential to defeat spam/scam,” as well as the “ability to post long video & audio.” He also said users would see “half as many ads.”
Earlier in the day, The Wall Street Journal reported that Twitter Blue subscribers will lose access to ad-free articles from publishers like Vox, the Los Angeles Times and Insider. There have been various reports of different prices for a Twitter Blue subscription, with the company also reportedly having considered increasing the subscription price to $20 a month.
It’s unclear from Musk’s tweets if verified users would have to pay for a subscription or lose their blue check mark. Musk tweeted there would be “a secondary tag” for public figures, like the one now used for politicians.
The company’s chief customer officer, Sarah Personette, also revealed in a tweet that she resigned.
Hi folks, I wanted to share that I resigned on Friday from Twitter and my work access was officially cut off last night.
— Sarah Personette (@SEP) November 1, 2022
Meanwhile, Twitter said it has removed 1,500 accounts since Oct. 29 for posting hateful content.
Oct. 31: Official CEO, board dissolved, layoff plans, no Trump decision yet, content moderation limited
Days after naming himself “Chief Twit” on his Twitter profile, Musk confirmed he’s the company’s CEO through a securities filing. Other changes to Twitter’s leadership are also underway. A related securities filing shows Twitter’s board of directors was dissolved the day Musk took over and identified Musk as the “sole director” of the company.
He also reportedly plans to lay off 25% of Twitter’s workforce, The Washington Post reported, citing anonymous sources.
Musk, who has previously said he would reverse former US President Donald Trump’s permanent ban from Twitter, is still getting questions about whether he’ll follow through on that. Twitter booted Trump from its platform in 2021 following the deadly US Capitol Hill riot because of concerns that his remarks could incite more violence.
“If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if Trump is coming back on this platform, Twitter would be minting money!” Musk tweeted.
Twitter also limited some Trust and Safety employee access to internal tools, Bloomberg reported, curbing their ability to moderate content and address misinformation ahead of next week’s US elections. They can apparently still edit or remove posts that could result in real-world harm.
“This is exactly what we (or any company) should be doing in the midst of a corporate transition to reduce opportunities for insider risk. We’re still enforcing our rules at scale,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, tweeted in response to Bloomberg’s story.
Oct. 30: Musk toys with check mark changes and Vine revival, tweets misinformation
Musk has been busy suggesting changes to Twitter. He tweeted a poll about whether Twitter should bring back Vine, a short-form video app that Twitter shut down in 2017.
Twitter also reportedly plans to charge $20 per month for its Twitter Blue subscription service, and verified users would lose their blue check mark if they don’t do so in 90 days, The Verge reported, citing anonymous sources. Platformer’s Casey Newton reported that Twitter is thinking about charging $5 a month to verified users if they want to keep their blue check marks.
Musk also tweeted and then deleted a link to an article with a baseless conspiracy theory about last week’s attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in San Francisco. The article came from a website called the Santa Monica Observer. Fact-checking website Media Bias/Fact Check noted the outlet publishes right-wing misinformation.
Oct. 29: Twitter battles a surge in racist slurs
Twitter is trying to combat anonymous accounts that started to tweet racist slurs hours after Musk took over Twitter.
Twitter head of safety and integrity Yoel Roth tweeted that the company has “seen a small number of accounts post a ton of tweets that include slurs and other derogatory terms.” He added that “more than 50,000 tweets repeatedly using a particular slur came from just 300 accounts.”
“Bottom line up front: Twitter’s policies haven’t changed. Hateful conduct has no place here. And we’re taking steps to put a stop to an organized effort to make people think we have,” he tweeted.
Let’s talk for a minute about slurs, hateful conduct, and trolling campaigns.
Bottom line up front: Twitter’s policies haven’t changed. Hateful conduct has no place here. And we’re taking steps to put a stop to an organized effort to make people think we have.
— Yoel Roth (@yoyoel) October 30, 2022
Oct. 28: Twitter to form content moderation council
Advocacy groups have raised concerns that Musk’s control over Twitter would allow more hate speech and misinformation to surface on the platform. Musk has vowed publicly he doesn’t want Twitter to become a “free-for-all hellscape” but has also said that he’s “against censorship that goes far beyond the law.”
Musk said the company would form a content moderation council with “widely diverse viewpoints.” The company won’t make any major content decisions or account reinstatements before the council convenes, he tweeted.
Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints.
No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 28, 2022
A securities filing on Oct. 28 also noted that Twitter’s stock is being delisted on the New York Stock Exchange. Twitter, a publicly traded company, became a private one.
Oct. 27: Musk takes over Twitter, fires executives
Musk became Twitter’s new owner and reportedly fired key executives at the company, including Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal policy, trust and safety.
Earlier in the day, Musk tweeted a letter to advertisers. The billionaire, who once tweeted that he hated advertising, now posted that “advertising, when done right, can delight, entertain and inform you.”
Musk met with employees throughout the week, carried a sink into Twitter’s headquarters as a photo op and changed his profile to “Chief Twit” before news broke that the deal had been completed.
CNET staff contributed to this report.
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