The Bird Has Flown, Says the Chief Twit

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Not the opening line to a Roald Dahl novel but the sentiments of Elon Musk as he announces the purchase of Twitter for £38bn. A deal he pulled out of but was ordered by US courts to complete. So, the richest man in the world now owns a global social platform often challenged for its lack of moderation and wants to become the free speech champion. Interesting times.

We do not know where this monumental move will take Twitter, which means we don’t know the impact on the platform as a vehicle for advertiser awareness, engagement and performance. No one does, not even the Chief Twit but we will watch the blue birdie carefully. Medialab has seen our client investment in Twitter grow significantly in the last 18 months alongside similar rates of growth in TikTok, Next Door, Reddit and Pinterest fuelled by the significant post IOS14.5 challenges faced by Meta’s Facebook. So, Twitter is an important, very public platform and we will stay close to their UK Leadership to understand and inform as much as possible.

Musk’s ambition seems noble: “The reason I acquired Twitter is that it is important to the future of civilisation to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence”.

Key questions within this ambition, which are already surfacing make for an important and interesting debate:

  • What will be the impact on the overall strategy of the major Leadership Executive firings that Musk has made in his first 12 hours?
  • Will Donald Trump be invited back onto the platform?
  • Will Vine make a return?
  • Will content moderation be lessened to allow for greater free speech?
  • Are there plans to develop a western version of China’s “we chat” – “X – the everything App”, a one-stop app for everyday admin from messaging to food or finance?
  • And the burning question, is there a subscription model for Twitter on its way?

Well, it seems likely according to the latest comms from the Chief Twit. While a blue tick on Twitter is currently free, the latest from Musk is that users who want a blue tick moving forwards can pay $8 per month (price adjusted by country proportionate to purchasing power parity). It’s the first step in trying to generate income! They need income and need to be less reliant on advertising as they have not posted a profit in years. A blue tick would get you:

  • Priority in replies, mentions & searches, which is essential to defeating spam/scams
  • Ability to post long video & audio
  • Half as many ads
  • There will also be a secondary tag below the name for someone who is a public figure, which is already the case for politicians

A major flag is that this verification change could make it harder to identify reliable sources.

So, change is happening and will keep happening. We will keep watching and we are not alone. The European Commission has taken its stance, “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules” Thierry Breton, the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, said on the social media platform within hours of the sale announcement.

Maybe Musk senses our collective concern as he issued an open letter to advertisers (on Twitter of course) reinforcing that Twitter “aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens brands and grows that enterprise.” He is also keen to promote that he does not want Twitter to “become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said without consequence”, he wants it to “be warm and welcoming to all”.

As rumours of Donald J Trump and Kanye West returning to the platform grow, Musk quickly sought to reassure announcing that he will set up a “content moderation council” with “widely diverse viewpoints” amongst other things, to manage account reinstatements and was keen to stress that no decisions will be made until this council is formed.

A man with huge ambition, but the size and shape of his ambition for Twitter is less clear.

Let us hope it is more BFG than the Twits.

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