Melting Twitter bird
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Musk’s Twitter takeover is a blast from the past

Protocol Policy

Hello and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, we’re talking about the lessons Elon Musk didn’t learn from social media’s early days. Plus, Congress eyes a lame-duck pass at antitrust and social media platforms get poor marks for combatting election misinformation.

Elon’s Twitter time warp

There was a time, around 2014, when even Mark Zuckerberg realized moving fast and breaking things was a bad idea.

Standing on stage at Facebook’s developer conference that year, Zuckerberg declared the company’s new motto was “Move fast with stable infrastructure” — an acknowledgement that Facebook had outrun its scrappy startup days and that even the most minor decisions had unintended consequences. It’s all fun and exploding watermelons until someone livestreams a massacre.

Now, Elon Musk is about to learn that lesson all over again.

Under Musk, Twitter is reverting to an earlier era of social media, and not just because of Musk’s outdated views on online speech. Musk is also returning Twitter to a time when its singular focus was on making money, ensuing chaos be damned.

  • Since seizing power of Twitter a little over a week ago, Musk has hastily slashed staff and forced whoever’s left to spin up new products overnight like some sort of business school brainstorming session on steroids.
  • As evidence that Twitter’s new leaders may not be thinking all of their decisions through as carefully as they should, Twitter is reportedly now trying to hire back some of the people it fired last week.

Twitter is once again stumble-sprinting toward new revenue-generating products, with seemingly little regard for how they could be abused. Consider what Twitter’s been working on — and is rumored to be working on — this last week alone:

  • A new $8 Twitter Blue that gives subscribers priority in replies and search, and could very well skew the power balance on Twitter toward only those with the means and inclination to pay.
  • A new OnlyFans clone that Twitter employees reportedly had just three days to vet for risks, despite a similar product earlier being shelved over concerns about child sexual abuse material.
  • A Vine reboot that creates an entirely new surface area of risk in a medium — video — that’s much harder to police than text, at a time when Twitter just lost 15% of its Trust and Safety team.
  • A paid direct-messaging feature that seems destined to be used for targeted attacks against public figures.

At this point, Musk shouldn’t be naive to the risks in the way Twitter’s and Facebook’s founders once were. But Musk has never let a little — or a lot of — risk stop him. Take what he’s done with Tesla:

  • This is a company that publicly launched a feature called Full Self-Driving, which, by Tesla’s own admission, does “not make the vehicle autonomous.”
  • But in the face of a steady stream of lawsuits, investigations, and even fatalities, Tesla hasn’t backed down from the branding.

Tech platforms have been rightly criticized for becoming too risk-averse in their middle age — for adopting tortured decision-making processes that make them too slow to respond and too fearful of political backlash. Moving fast and building stable infrastructure hasn’t exactly panned out for Zuckerberg.

But in his frenzied quest to pay back the $13 billion in debt Twitter took just on, Musk is turning the knob the other way entirely, substituting careful consideration for a cash grab. If history is any indication, don’t be surprised if a lot of things get broken.

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

In Washington

The White House told Bloomberg it plans to push Congress to pass the tech antitrust legislation during the lame-duck session.

Democrats are worried about YouTube allowing the spread of Spanish-language misinformation ahead of the midterm election. In a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, a group of congressional Democrats cited “a disturbing rise in the prevalence of abortion-related mis/disinformation targeting Latinas across social media platforms.” Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Ron Wyden, and Tim Kaine signed the letter alongside Reps. Joaquin Castro and Judy Chu.

The Justice Department shut down an illegal e-book distributor that recently surged in popularity through TikTok. The agency took the domain, but it’s still possible — and perhaps even likely — for the service to pop up elsewhere on the internet, BleepingComputer reports.

The top members of the House committee that oversees consumer protection expressed “serious concern” with Apple and Google allowing TikTok on their respective app stores. In letters to both companies, Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Gus M. Bilirakis called TikTok “particularly egregious,” though they also cited apps operated by Meta as allowing platforms to “closely surveil users while they are using in-app browsers.”


Don’t miss out! Register today to hear some of the biggest players in fintech discuss the industry’s most pressing issues at the Financial Technology Association’s inaugural Fintech Summit: Shaping the Future of Finance. Produced in partnership with Protocol, all sessions of the event will be live-streamed on November 16th.

Learn more and reserve your spot here.

In the courts

The Department of Justice charged two former executives associated with MoviePass with fraud. The case against Ted Farnsworth and Mitch Lowe alleges they attempted to defraud investors by providing “materially false and misleading representations” that artificially inflated the company’s stock price.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether companies subject to in-house tribunals at the FTC and SEC can challenge the process before final judgments. The issue is bureaucratic but could change how major federal regulators operate.

Apple settled a lawsuit against a former employee working on design. Apple accused the engineer, Simon Lancaster, of sharing sensitive trade secrets with journalists.

On Protocol

The Department of Energy is actively exploring bidirectional charging, which allows EVs to send energy back into the grid and has potential benefits for improving system reliability and cost.

COP27, taking place in Egypt, will likely focus on building a framework for rich countries to pay for climate damages in developing countries. This will be the 27th iteration of what's known as the Conference of the Parties, a United Nations climate change conference.

Around the world

China is considering relaxing its zero-COVID-19 approach, which led to strict, weekslong lockdowns in some cases,according to The Wall Street Journal.

Russia has reactivated some fake accounts ahead of the midterm election,The New York Times reports. Those accounts, operating on social media services such as Gab and Parler, are reportedly attempting to sway public opinion on the validity of the electoral system as well as American support for the war in Ukraine.

In the media, culture, and metaverse

More updates from Twitter:

  • Twitter started and then stopped rolling out an $8-per-month verification program under Twitter Blue. The company pushed a software update that told customers they can get a blue check mark “just like the celebrities, companies, and politicians you already follow.” But some Twitter managers maintained the update hadn’t gone live yet, and then the company reportedly decided to delay the rollout until after midterms, The New York Times reported. Musk claims Twitter will suspend imposters who use the blue check to scam others.
  • Twitter has reportedly asked some of the laid-off employees to return. Some of the teams most impacted by the layoffs include communications, ethical AI, research, and tweet curation, according to The Verge.
  • Twitter founder Jack Dorsey took to Twitter to apologize for growing the company too quickly.
  • A group of Twitter employees filed a preemptive lawsuit against the company, warning of violations of the WARN Act. However, because Twitter seems to have given employees sufficient warning and severance, the WARN Act likely won’t apply.

Meta and Twitter haven’t delivered on their promises to combat election misinformation, according to The Washington Post. At least 26 midterm election candidates posted inaccurate election claims that weren’t adequately addressed by social media companies according to their own principals, based on analysis conducted by The Post.

Meta is reportedly considering broad layoffs that could affect thousands of workers. The company has never before enacted such large reductions in head count. Meta could make announcements to its roughly 87,000 employees on Wednesday.

In data

90%: That’s roughly the approval rating of El Salvator’s president, Nayib Bukele, whose bitcoin experiment has largely gone awry, according to a recent Bloomberg report. In spite of the crypto struggles, Bukele has won support for his crackdown on gang violence among other domestic issues. In a September article for Bitcoin Magazine, Bukele touted El Salvador’s rise in GDP, employment, and exports — while maintaining that the bitcoin experiment has largely worked.


Don’t miss out! Register today to hear some of the biggest players in fintech discuss the industry’s most pressing issues at the Financial Technology Association’s inaugural Fintech Summit: Shaping the Future of Finance. Produced in partnership with Protocol, all sessions of the event will be live-streamed on November 16th.

Learn more and reserve your spot here.

End of the gold rush

What comes after the gold rush? In the case of bitcoin mining, it’s a lot of excess capacity. The top bitcoin-mining operations are selling capacity at a 77% discount compared to a year ago, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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