Under Musk, Twitter reassesses verification mechanism

Elon Musk is already weighing sweeping changes for Twitter, and he’s facing big hurdles as he enters his first week as owner of the social network.

Musk has fired the company’s board of directors and named himself sole member, according to a company report filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The billionaire later tweeted that the council’s new configuration is “temporary” but did not release further details.

It is also testing the waters on the possibility of users paying to verify their accounts. An investor who works with Musk tweeted a poll asking how much users would be willing to pay for the blue tick that Twitter uses to verify accounts.

Musk, whose account is verified, responded: “Interesting.”

Critics consider the brand — awarded to celebrities, politicians, businessmen and journalists — an elitist symbol.

But Twitter also uses it to fact-check activists and people suddenly in the news, as well as little-known journalists at small publications around the world, as a tool to combat disinformation spread by imposters.

“The entire verification process is now being restructured,” Musk tweeted Sunday in response to a user who asked for help getting verified.

On Friday, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said he and his Kingdom Holding Company had acquired $1.89 billion in existing Twitter shares, becoming the social network’s second-largest shareholder after Musk. The news sparked concern among some US lawmakers.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy tweeted that he will ask the Foreign Investment Commission, which is charged with reviewing the acquisition of American businesses by foreign buyers, to open an investigation into the national security implications of Saudi investment in Twitter.

“We should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in suppressing political speech and influencing US politics, are now the second largest owner of a major social media platform,” Murphy tweeted. “There is a clear national security issue at stake and the CFIUS should conduct a review,” she added, referring to the commission by its English initials.

After taking over the company, Musk has invited a group of investors and friends from the tech world to help transform the San Francisco-based company, and that will likely include personnel changes. Last week, Musk fired CEO Parag Agrawal and other top executives.

There is uncertainty about whether and when large-scale layoffs will occur.

“I think there will be a lot of layoffs,” said Matthew Faulkner, an assistant professor of finance at San Jose State University. Faulkner highlighted the need to cut costs after Musk bought Twitter at a price above market value and the platform’s longstanding struggles to turn a profit. But Musk would also like to remove those employees who don’t believe in his mission as soon as possible so that those who stay feel safer.

“You don’t want to cause a panic among the employees who work for you,” Faulkner said. “That doesn’t motivate people.”

Among those who have revealed that they are helping Musk is Sriram Krishnan, a partner at investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, who in the spring promised to help Musk raise the money to buy Twitter and turn it into a private company.

Krishnan, who was previously a product executive at Twitter, said in a tweet that it is “an extremely important company that can make a huge impact in the world, and Elon is the right person to make it happen.”

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