New Twitter owner Elon Musk joined a Twitter Space today to address concerns from advertisers about changes at the company. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO's nascent foray into running a social media platform has been tumultuous, from launching unfinished products, to alienating advertisers, to laying off half of its staff.
Twitter's Client Solutions Leader Robin Wheeler moderated the hour-long conversation with Musk, Trust & Safety Head Yoel Roth and International Advertising Bureau CEO David Cohen. For the most part, Musk repeated many of the same talking points that he has been peddling since he initially launched his bid for Twitter.
"We really want to be, as I've mentioned before publicly, sort of the digital town square, where that is as inclusive as possible... Like, can we get 80% of humanity on Twitter, and talking, and maybe, ideally, in a positive way?" Musk asked at the top of the call. "Can we exchange... instead of having violence, have words, and maybe once in a while people change their minds? The overarching goal here is like, how can we make Twitter a force for good for civilization?"
If Musk wants to get 80% of humanity on Twitter, he has his work cut out for him. If Twitter's estimate of 237.8 million monetizable daily active users is correct, then 3% of the world's population currently uses Twitter daily.
Musk also addressed the questions around his plan to verify any user who is willing to pay $8 per month for a blue check.
"The issue is that creating a fake account is extremely cheap, it maybe is a tenth of a penny," he said. "By charging $8 a month, it raises the cost of a bot or troll by somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000."
He obliquely nodded at the idea that only a certain number of accounts connected to an individual phone number or credit card can be verified.
"Wouldn't a state actor have $8 million a day to create a million fake accounts? Well, yes, they've got the budget. But here's the problem. They don't have a million credit cards, and they don't have a million phones. That's the actual kicker. There's no way to overcome that. And we will be vigorously pursuing any impersonation," he said.
With regard to the verification process, Musk laid out clearly: "Someone has to have phone, a credit card and $8 a month. That's the bar."
Musk has continued doubling-down on the idea that by verifying as many users as possible -- and charging users for that privilege -- it will be more difficult to see posts from users who don't pay to be verified.
"Over time, maybe not that long of time, when you look at mentions and replies and what not, the default will be to look at verified. You can still look at unverified, just as in your Gmail or whatever, you can still look at the probable spam folder," Musk said. "You can still look at all the others, but it will be defaulted to the highly, highly relevant category, which will be verified."
Since before Musk's acquisition, Twitter has offered a separate feed for verified users that only shows notifications from fellow blue checks. In terms of other product updates, Musk elaborated on some plans for how Twitter can get more into commerce and payments. He also reiterated his previous statements about investing in creator monetization, though existing creator features have not been quite successful for Twitter thus far.
With major advertisers listening to the call, Wheeler pivoted the discussion to ask about content moderation and brand safety. Last week, a report revealed that IPG -- one of the world’s largest advertising companies, with customers such as Coca-Cola, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Mattel and Spotify -- issued a recommendation for clients to temporarily pause their spending on Twitter because of moderation concerns. The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), a coalition of platforms, advertisers and industry groups fighting harmful content on social media, also said it was monitoring Twitter's handling of content moderation.
Yet Musk's comments were vague and did not specifically address these groups' concerns.
"It stands to reason that if somebody's advertising, that they do not want super negative information right next to their ad," Musk said. "We all kind of work hard to make sure that there's not bad stuff right next to an ad." He also said that Twitter is working to increase the relevance of ads.
When asked about hate speech, Musk responded, "I don't think having hate speech next to an ad is great."
Musk was equally avoidant when asked about his plan to create his own content moderation council. Musk has continually said that this group will represent a diverse set of viewpoints, but did not state what kinds of people or groups will be on the board. After a meeting with human rights groups last week, Musk committed to including representatives from groups that suffer from hate-fueled violence. But Musk said today that it might take a few months to put this council together.
Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months.
We will keep what works & change what doesn’t.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 9, 2022
Roth commented on how enforcement policies might change soon, too.
"For many years, the only thing that Twitter could do was delete tweets and ban accounts," he said. "One of the directions that we're trying to build towards is having more tools in our toolbox to be able to reduce the harmful impacts of content without always having to go to that step of a ban. And so in the coming days and weeks, you're going to see us start to introduce some of these new concepts and frameworks for content moderation."
Roth elaborated: "There's a lot of other stuff that we can do, from warning messages, to interstitials, to reducing the reach of content, that we haven't fully explored in the past. And you're going to see us move quickly to build some of these new tools and to integrate that with our policy approach."
In a key moment of the talk, Wheeler asked, "Do the same rules apply to you, Elon, that apply to everyone else on the platform?"
"Yeah, absolutely," Musk replied.