Twitter owner Elon Musk pleaded with advertisers to keep using his platform on Wednesday as he sketched out his plans for user verification, content moderation and even his intention to add banking features to Twitter in front of a live audience of over 100,000 users.
During an hour-long Twitter Spaces session attended by representatives from Adidas, Chevron, Kate Spade, Nissan and Walgreens, Musk said he wanted Twitter to “be a force that moves civilization in 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 collection of major advertisers and brands listening to Musk’s remarks underscored the intense interest — and perceptions of risk — generated by Musk’s erratic management of the company over the past week, from launching (and then un-launching) product changes to his sweeping layoffs that hit half the company.
To his critics, and to companies that have paused advertising on Twitter, Musk asked to be given a chance.
“I understand if people want to give it a minute and see how things are evolving,” he said. “But really, the best way to see how things are evolving is just use Twitter. And see how your experience has changed. Is it better? Is it worse?”
Musk repeatedly urged skeptics to use the platform while addressing questions about his proposal to offer blue check marks 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, will not be required to provide identifying information other than a credit card and a phone number, Musk confirmed. Twitter will eventually default to displaying tweets from Twitter Blue subscribers, while tweets from users who do not pay for a blue check mark, he said, would be relegated to a separate page on the site and effectively buried unless viewers sought out that material.
Brands will be expected to foot the bill for their own verification on Twitter Blue, Musk said. He did not go into specifics about a separate, gray verification badge Twitter is developing for major brands, government accounts and media outlets — a feature the company has said will not be available for purchase but rather bestowed on high-profile accounts to distinguish them from those who paid for blue check marks. On Wednesday Twitter briefly appeared to have rolled out the gray check mark feature for some users, though Musk soon after tweeted that he had “killed it.” A Twitter product manager working on the feature left the door open for its eventual release.
Musk also argued, contrary to some of his critics, that well-resourced purveyors of mis- and disinformation would not be able to game the system because they would quickly run out of phone numbers and credit cards, or 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 falsehood is 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 begin, he said, with Twitter allowing users to pay each other through the platform, with the company setting up each user with an initial gift of $10 to test it out. Over time, Musk added, Twitter will offer the ability for users to transfer money out of its system to third-party banks — and then to market its own banking services.
“The next step would be a money market account so you can get an extremely high yield on your balance,” Musk said, adding that debit cards and checks could also be a part of the plan.
Last week, Twitter submitted registration paperwork to the US government that indicated its intent to join the payments industry, and to comply with certain banking regulations. A copy of the paperwork viewed by CNN showed that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network received the registration filing by “Twitter Payments LLC” on Nov. 4. A FinCEN spokesperson declined to comment on Twitter’s filing, which had been 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 is increasing its investment in ideas to battle hateful content.
“We think there’s a lot of other stuff we can do, from warning messages to interstitials, to reducing the reach of that content, that we haven’t fully explored in the past,” Roth said, vowing to implement those ideas quickly. Twitter has implemented many of these steps in the past, particularly in response to election and Covid-19 misinformation.
Musk said he and his teams are at work changing much of Twitter’s existing codebase, partly to support new features such as longform video. That feature, he said, will initially allow paid users to download 10 minutes of high-definition video before gradually lengthening that time limit to 40 minutes and then several hours.
And he emphasized 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 Notes, he said, “will obviate the need for a lot of the content stuff that’s currently in place, I think.”
The sprawling question-and-answer session occasionally delved into the metaphorical and philosophical.
At one point, Musk appeared to acknowledge that his commitment to “free speech” was not absolute.
“There’s a giant difference between freedom of speech and freedom of reach,” 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 that stuff,” he said. “Maybe this is a dumb decision, but we’ll see.”