November 6, 2022 | 11:12 a.m
SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter on Saturday began rolling out a controversial new paid subscription system that the social network’s unpredictable new owner, billionaire Elon Musk, had hired employees to build after last week’s takeover.
Days after the Tesla boss helmed one of the world’s leading platforms for discourse and activism, his promises and provocations are sparking a wave of reactions — including warnings from the United Nations and an apology from the Twitter co-founder.
His plan to call back content moderation on the site is causing such concern that UN justice chief Volker Turk on Saturday urged him to put respect for human rights at the heart of the social network.
“Twitter has a responsibility to avoid amplifying content that violates people’s rights,” Turk said in his open letter.
Reports of Musk’s firing of the platform’s entire human rights team are “not an encouraging start in my view,” he said.
Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter in 2006 and stepped down as CEO last year, tweeted to apologize for the site’s growing too quickly, a day after Musk fired about half of the company’s 7,500 employees.
“I realize that many are angry with me,” he wrote.
The remaining employees experience a change in their corporate culture. Musk launched his first flagship project last Friday, the redesign of the Twitter Blue subscription option.
He has reportedly told his team that the redesign must be ready for eventual activation by November 7 — the day before the US midterm elections — or their jobs will be at stake.
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“Sprint” to start
On Saturday, the platform’s mobile app began offering an update that will allow users to sign up for the new version of Twitter Blue, which Musk said will cost $8 per month and give users a blue tick and perks like fewer ads should grant in their feeds.
“Starting today, we’re adding great new features to Twitter Blue,” reads the update, which is only available on iPhones for now. “Get Twitter Blue for $7.99 a month when you sign up now.”
In a tweet, the California-based company’s director of product development, Esther Crawford, indicated that the new service has yet to go live.
“The new Blue isn’t live yet – the sprint to our launch is ongoing, but some people may see us making updates because we test and drive changes in real-time,” she posted.
The current version of the service, which costs $5, includes premium features like a more comfortable reading mode.
Musk would like to add a blue tick, which has previously symbolized account verification, although he hasn’t explained how the paying accounts are verified.
The verification was free and serves to authenticate the accounts of users such as governments, journalists, celebrities and athletes – a system put in place to prevent misinformation but which Musk has derided as “lords & pawns”.
The update also lists other benefits Musk mentioned, like the ability to post longer videos and audio messages, and fewer ads.
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Ad spend suspended
The California-based company needs to diversify its revenue and relies heavily on advertising.
And worries that Musk’s tinkering with content moderation will flood the site with hate speech and misinformation, several advertisers have reportedly stopped spending on the platform since he bought it.
Musk has insisted that content moderation remains a priority, that the rules have not changed and that he would set up a council dedicated to the task.
But he also accused “activist groups” of pressuring advertisers.
“We did everything we could to appease the activists. Extremely messed up! They are trying to destroy freedom of speech in America,” he tweeted on Friday.
The social network is losing more than $4 million a day, he said, to justify the layoffs.
He promised Saturday that Twitter would evolve, with more convenient sharing and search tools and ways to monetize content for creators.