As Elon Musk Begins Overhauling Twitter, Mass Layoffs Have Started

Mike Isaac and Ryan Mac, New York Times:

This week, Mr. Musk moved to make money from Twitter’s “blue check” verification program, a method of making sure users are who they say they are. The billionaire announced that the program, which is currently free, will be rolled into the “Twitter Blue” subscription service, which will offer enhanced features for a monthly $8 fee.


Mr. Musk’s new Twitter Blue subscription service, which will give subscribers the check mark next to their username, is aiming to begin on Nov. 7 in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, according to internal documents seen by The Times. Subscribers would not need their identities authenticated to get the check mark, the documents suggested.

I have exercised a high degree of caution in reading about Musk’s plans for Twitter, and — if I may — I suggest you do the same. He famously struggles to deliver on exactly what he says, even on a wildly flexible timeline. So I do not think it is wise to read this and conclude that a new version of Twitter Blue will definitely be launched this Monday — despite the best efforts of overworked staff — and that no identity confirmation will be required for gaining verified account status.

With that in mind, let me indulge in taking it at face value, because it paints a deeply concerning picture.

Twitter’s verified account program has been a mess pretty much since it launched. It was started in 2009 after St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa filed a ridiculous lawsuit against Twitter over a parody account. In the beginning, it was only open to people, not businesses, and it was by invitation only, like an even nerdier version of the Stonecutters.

The whole point of this white checkmark on a blue violator was to signify to other Twitter users that this account actually belongs to the person in question. Twitter took pains to state these checkmarks were never intended to indicate importance, only that tweets from a specific account were authored by that person. But if the point of this process was authenticity, surely verification should be open to anyone, right? Ten years later and after a brief false start in 2016, Twitter created a public verification process. In doing so, the company admitted verified accounts must be both legitimate and notable — from a public figure or organization.

If this report from the Times is true, though, it is a regression on both counts. I think verification should be opened up to more people, but only if the account’s authenticity can be confirmed. This new version does not accomplish the goals of verifying an account and, worse, offers an obvious potential for abuse. If all it takes is eight dollars per month to create a verified account in the name of a public figure, organization, journalist, or embassy, expect to see way more authentic-seeming fraudulent tweets.

Oh, and if this does actually launch on November 7, that is one day before the U.S. midterm elections, which is a hell of a day to pick for adding a wave of confusion. (Update: CNN and the New York Times report the launch of this new verification system will happen after the midterm elections. Even though the Twitter app may appear to reflect these changes for you, the rollout has not actually happened.) And it gets worse.

Twitter’s leadership sent all employees an email today announcing the process of laying off about half its staff:

Given the nature of our distributed workforce and our desire to inform impacted individuals as quickly as possible, communications for this process will take place via email. By 9AM PST on Friday Nov. 4th, everyone will receive an individual email with the subject line: Your Role at Twitter. Please check your email, including your spam folder.

If your employment is not impacted, you will receive a notification via your Twitter email.

If your employment is impacted, you will receive a notification with next steps via your personal email.

I cannot imagine there being a great way of laying off staff, but this notice seems especially cruel when contrasted with the email Stripe CEO Patrick Collison sent to employees today announcing that company’s round of layoffs.

Given this blistering pace, some staff have already found out they are leaving the company. It appears the speed of these layoffs with little notice may also be illegal.

Alex Heath of the Verge reports on an additional complication:

After employees received the memo confirming layoffs would begin, many began quickly trying to unlink their Twitter accounts from their work email addresses — a company-mandated policy that also requires physical keys for two-factor authentication.

My thoughts are with everyone being laid off — some undoubtably relieved they will not be enduring whatever this new version of Twitter may bring, while others are heartbroken and likely concerned about their employment prospects while tech companies are putting the brakes on hiring. My thoughts are also with the remaining staff who will need to keep the service as stable and reliable as possible during high-traffic events, such as next week’s elections, while also trying to mitigate the spread of impersonated tweets.