Elon Musk has just put himself in an unenviable position.
The billionaire, who has incurred a debt of $13 billion to pay for the acquisition, wants to find sources of income as soon as possible to make the platform profitable.
He unsurprisingly started by cutting costs with the elimination of half of the firm’s workforce in one day, or 3,700 jobs.
He also launched a new version of Twitter Blue, the social network’s subscription service. Blue, which was increased in price to $7.99 per month, now includes the check mark indicating that an account has been verified or that the person behind it has been authenticated and is who they say they are.
Brands, institutions, politicians and celebrities are fans of this check mark because it allows them to communicate with the world with confidence and reliability. This badge was free before Musk.
With the new version, anyone subscribing to Blue gets a blue badge. Musk believes that the cost will be enough to discourage people running fake accounts from creating them. He hopes to solve the problem of spam bots and fake accounts, that contribute to the dissemination of misinformation on Twitter.
But the billionaire, who didn’t listen to the critics arguing that charging for the check mark is not the solution to spam bots, is now faced with a big problem which is not likely to reassure advertisers: impersonators.
Since the launch of the new Twitter Blue on November 9, many fake accounts pretending to be companies, celebrities and politicians have been swarming Twitter. This forced Musk and Twitter to pause signups to the service on November 11. It was still not possible to subscribe to it at the time of this writing.
But, these missteps didn’t prevent the tech tycoon from saying that his debut at Twitter was a success.
“Usage of Twitter continues to rise. One thing is for sure: it isn’t boring!” he lauded on November 10.
“Hit all-time high of active users today,” he said on November 11.
However, impersonators remain a huge problem. The billionaire seems to be fed up with the media and detractors who are only talking about that. He no longer has patience when being presented with yet another case of a fake account.
Case in point, he just started an unwelcome war with a powerful Democratic senator who was the victim of an impersonator.
‘Fix Your Companies. Or Congress Will’
A journalist from the Washington Post created a fake account of U.S. Senator Ed Markey, to prove the vulnerabilities of Blue. Sen. Markey (D-Mass.) then sent a message to Musk to complain, and asked him how this was possible and how the billionaire planned to solve this problem.
“A @washingtonpost reporter was able to create a verified account impersonating me,” Markey wrote to Musk. “I’m asking for answers from @elonmusk who is putting profits over people and his debt over stopping disinformation. Twitter must explain how this happened and how to prevent it from happening again.”
Instead of providing the powerful lawmaker with the answers he was seeking, Musk attacked him by practically mocking him.
“Perhaps it is because your real account sounds like a parody?” the billionaire responded, and then added: “And why does your pp have a mask!?”
But this did not sit well the senator who then pointed out to Musk that his companies were already under investigation by regulators. He then threatened the billionaire with an additional investigation, this time from Congress.
“One of your companies is under an FTC consent decree. Auto safety watchdog NHTSA is investigating another for killing people. And you’re spending your time picking fights online. Fix your companies. Or Congress will,” Markey responded to Musk’s mockery.
Many users pointed out that the Senator was a member of several Congressional committees and, therefore, had the power to launch an investigation on Twitter.
“Probably not a great idea to troll a high ranking Senator with a history of taking down rich people who just so happens to sit on multiple committees which regulate your businesses the day after his party retakes the Chamber,” a Twitter user commented.
What the billionaire answered: “Are you suggesting the Senator will abuse his political power to attack me?”
Given the challenges he already faces, adding a Congressional investigation would not be good news for Musk, whose acquisition of Twitter has already caused the Tesla stock to plummet, as investors fear he might be too distracted away from the company.