Buying a high-profile company and quickly making big changes is unlikely to be smooth sailing. For Elon Musk's $44 billion purchase of Twitter, the tempest is unusually public, often spinning out on Twitter.
Twitter on Sunday pushed back the rollout of its new Twitter Blue paid verification system until after Tuesday's election, The New York Times and other news organizations reported. The company had appeared to launch the new paid blue checkmark Saturday. Twitter is also trying to rehire dozens of the 3,700 employees it chaotically sacked Friday, deciding they "were either fired in error or too essential to the changes the billionaire businessman wants to make," Bloomberg News reports.
Musk himself tweeted Sunday night that "any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying 'parody' will be permanently suspended," without a warning, adding that once the new Twitter Blue goes live, "any name change at all will cause temporary loss of verified checkmark." These "parody bans follow — and apparently contradict — an Oct. 28 promise from Musk that no 'major content decisions' would occur before the formation of 'a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints,'" The Daily Beast notes.
The policy change also follows a weekend in which several verified users, many of them celebrities, had changed their profile name to "Elon Musk" to highlight the reason Twitter started verifying accounts in the first place. Musk, a "free speech absolutist" and self-styled student of comedy, came in for some mockery.
Twitter's verification program started in "response to a fake account pretending to be former baseball manager Tony La Russa," Politico reports, and though it "has come to be seen as a brake on viral misinformation," the system has "also come in for criticism, often from right-wing populists, who deride 'blue-checkists' as a cabal of elites trying to protect their status."
The rollout of "new pay-for-play badges" right before the midterm elections prompted warnings from employees and cybersecurity experts, the Times reports, and a manager overseeing the change specified on Slack that the launch was moved "to Nov. 9, after the election."
"Twitter, whose communications team has been almost entirely laid off, did not immediately respond to a request for comment," the Times notes. In response to a tweet about the post-election rollout delay, Musk tweeted: "We are implementing additional safeguards to prevent impersonation, as well as collective use of verified accounts by a single individual or organization."