New York (CNN) Under Elon Musk, Twitter has antagonized several major news outlets by calling them state-funded outlets, appears to have eased restrictions on Russian government accounts and made crude jokes about its front seat and own name Musk’s Twitter posting.
And that’s just this weekend.
Musk’s antics, which only appear to have intensified this month, threaten to further erode Twitter’s brand value. For months, the company has struggled to retain advertisers and supplement its dwindling advertising business – which previously accounted for 90% of its annual revenue – by convincing users to pay for its Twitter Blue subscription service.
Musk, who has to pay large payments to lenders after buying the company for $44 billion, including with heavy debt, must either entice hesitant advertisers back to the platform or boost his subscription business. – or both. But its recent erratic movements can only complicate these recovery efforts.
Late last week, Twitter faced backlash for calling NPR a “state-affiliated media” organization, similar to foreign propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik in Russia, in apparent violation of its own policies. NPR CEO John Lansing called Twitter’s decision “unacceptable” and said the organization was “supported by millions of listeners.”
Following the pushback, Twitter changed NPR’s label to “government-funded media” and applied the same designation to British broadcaster BBC over the weekend. Twitter did not give a definition of what it considers “government-funded media”, but the BBC pushed back on the label, saying it is independent and “funded by the British public via license fee”.
The moves risk alienating some of the world’s best-known media organizations and undermining what has long been a key selling point for the platform: its role as an information hub. NPR, in particular, hasn’t tweeted from its main account in nearly a week.
Although Twitter labeled some news accounts as state-funded, it also appears to have removed some restrictions on Russian government accounts that were put in place after the start of the Russian war in Ukraine, again causing the indignation of some users.
Musk commented on the decision in a tweet on Sunday saying, “I was told Putin called me a war criminal for helping Ukraine so he’s not exactly my best friend. All news is to some extent propaganda. Let the people decide for themselves.”
Twitter, which laid off much of its media relations team last year, did not respond to a request for comment.
The controversial moves come as Twitter continues to face significant business challenges. Analytics firm Similarweb reported last week that traffic to Twitter’s advertising portal was down nearly 19% year-over-year in March. Many big advertisers have stopped spending on Twitter since Musk’s takeover due to concerns about increased hate speech on the platform and massive cuts to the company’s workforce.
Musk said Twitter is working to improve the platform’s ad targeting to increase value for advertisers. “But throughout this time, there have been distractions,” said Scott Kessler, head of technology at research firm Third Bridge, adding that there were “significant questions about where the company is headed. “. At the same time, online ad spending contracted overall due to concerns about the economy.
Against this backdrop, Musk’s Twitter has made several stunning announcements this month, some of which may only add to his challenges.
Musk has previously frustrated some of Twitter’s famous users, who have long been a key selling point for the platform, with a promise to remove blue ticks from accounts that had been verified under Twitter’s previous system. But it didn’t exactly go as planned – instead of removing controls from all previously verified users, Twitter appeared to target a single account belonging to The New York Times.
A few days later, Twitter’s home button was temporarily replaced with doge, the meme representing the cryptocurrency dogecoin, which Musk promoted. The company also briefly banned Twitter users from sharing links to a rival platform, upsetting users, including one who previously flagged the so-called Twitter files using documents provided by Musk.
As if to underscore his unique and questionable impact on the brand, “Chief Twit” has also apparently taken care of changes to Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. Last week, pictures began to spread of a piece of plastic covering the “w” in the sign on the front of the company’s office.
Around midnight Sunday, Musk tweeted that the owner of the business “says we are legally required to keep the sign as Twitter and can’t remove ‘w’ so we painted it in the background color”, next to a photo of the “w” painted in white against a white background, leaving a dumber word in its place. “Problem solved!” Musk tweeted.
If only the same could be said for the platform’s business issues.