Archive for Twitter

Twitter Apparently Hasn’t Paid For Employee Charitable Donations Made In 2022…. WTF?

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 1, 2023 by itnerd

Twitter is a real gong show under Elon Musk. But you knew that. However, this Tweet from Zoe Schiffler of Platformer takes the gong show to another level:

Really? Elon’s literally stealing money from charities. Even by the standards that Elon operates under, that’s a new low. Even for him.

To give you some perspective about how much cash we’re talking about here, there’s this:

Now if you expand Shiffler’s Tweet, Twitter claims that they are “is “actively working” to get the money to the NGOs.” But clearly Elon doesn’t want to cut the cheque, otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking about it. And I am willing to go out on a limb to say that now this is public, I am 50/50 as to whether he will because embarrassment and humiliation doesn’t seem to affect him.

You have to wonder if there is nothing that Elon won’t do at this point.

BREAKING: Elon Musk Tried To Meet With FTC Chair And Got Flipped Off

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 30, 2023 by itnerd

The New York Times is reporting that Elon Musk tried to meet with the chair of the FTC Lina Kahn, but he didn’t get that meeting. Here’s the TL:DR:

After Mr. Musk requested to meet with Ms. Khan, she consulted with the enforcement division inside the F.T.C.’s consumer protection bureau, which has been leading the Twitter investigation, according to the email among agency staff members describing the situation. Acting on the enforcement team’s advice, Ms. Khan declined to meet with Mr. Musk at that time.

In Ms. Khan’s Jan. 27 letter to Twitter, she noted that the company was under investigation and had dragged its heels in providing documents to the F.T.C., delaying depositions with witnesses including Mr. Musk. She said she was “troubled by Twitter’s delays and the obstacles that these delays are creating for the F.T.C.’s investigation.”

“I recommend that Twitter appropriately prioritize its legal obligations to provide the requested information,” she wrote. “Once Twitter has fully complied with all F.T.C. requests, I will be happy to consider scheduling a meeting with Mr. Musk.”

What does this tell you. Elon must really think that the FTC is about to lower the boom on him in a serious way, and he wants to head this off before it becomes costly. Be that in fines, forcing him to change how he does business, or most likely both. For all of his bravado, he’s at least smart enough to figure out that getting three letter agencies in the US mad at him is not a smart move. The thing is, I have to believe that he’s way too late on that front and he’s on the cusp of having yet another problem to deal with on top of the many, many other problems he has at the moment.

Judge Grants Twitter’s Request To ID Source Code Leaker Along With People Who Downloaded The Source Code

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 30, 2023 by itnerd

Yesterday a court in California granted Twitter’s request to force GitHub identify who leaked source code onto GitHub and who’s downloaded said source code from GitHub.

Let’s start with the who part. The GitHub user ID associated with the leaked source code is “FreeSpeechEnthusiast” which I am sure is a shot at the fact that Elon Musk claims to be a free speech absolutist, but hasn’t demonstrated that since buying Twitter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that “FreeSpeechEnthusiast” is most likely a disgruntled former Twitter employee who’s decided to take a little revenge on Elon for firing him or her. Whether they can actually track this person down is anyone’s guess as I have to assume that they would have smart enough to have covered their tracks. But I guess we’ll see as that sometimes isn’t the case when people try to take some form or revenge on a former employer.

Now over to the people who downloaded this source code. Chances are they’ll find a bunch of people who downloaded this code for giggles. But those aren’t the people who should concern Elon. Threat actors who downloaded this code, and who really want to take Twitter down or make life miserable for Elon aren’t going to be that easy to find. Thus I believe that the damage to Twitter has only begun as I fully expect attacks on Twitter to begin soon and no amount of legal intervention will change that.

GitHub has until April 3 to produce all of this information. It’s not clear to me if they can or will do that. And it isn’t clear if this code exists elsewhere on GitHub. I suppose Elon could get one of the few people who are left at Twitter to spend their time looking through GitHub trying to find any other copies of Twitter’s source code. But I suspect that Elon will have bigger issues to deal with shortly.

Tune in April 3rd or earlier to see what happens next.

Mashable Report Claims That Half Of Twitter Blue Subscribers Have Less Than 1000 Followers…. A #Fail If You’re Elon Musk

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 28, 2023 by itnerd

Elon Musk has been getting more and more desperate to get users of Twitter to sign up for Twitter Blue. But based on this report from Mashable that a reader pointed me to, that’s likely failing. Let’s start with this:

Researcher Travis Brown, who has been tracking Twitter Blue subscriptions since January, recently revealed around half of all users subscribed to Twitter Blue have less than 1,000 followers. That’s approximately 220,132 paying subscribers.

Furthermore, 78,059 paying Twitter Blue subscribers have less than 100 users following their account. That’s 17.6 percent of all Twitter Blue subscribers. 

Breaking down follower counts even further, there are 2,270 paying Twitter Blue subscribers who have zero followers.

That’s a significant chunk of Twitter Blue subscribers being unable to crack even four-digits worth of followers, even though some have subscribed believing it would help boost the growth of their Twitter account.

This is pretty bad. If I’m an advertiser, there’s zero value to any of these Twitter users. Because they don’t have anything near the level of pull with their followers to make it worthwhile to stick ads on the platform. The only person who wins here is Elon. Well, actually he’s not winning here either:

According to his data, Twitter Blue currently has a total of 444,435 paying subscribers. Accounting for the limitations of pulling this data using the Twitter API, Brown tells Mashable that he estimates that Twitter likely has around 475,000 paying subscribers.

This means that less than 0.2 percent of Twitter’s 254 million daily active users, a metric previously shared by Musk, are paying for Twitter Blue. 

So let’s do some quick math shall we? If we assume that every Twitter Blue subscriber is paying $8 a month, that implies that Elon is pulling in $3.8 million a month from said subscribers. Keep in mind that he spent $44 billion buying a platform that according to him is now worth $20 billion, and it becomes clear that the math isn’t adding up because at that run rate, it will take an extremely long time to make his money back. Especially since advertising which is Twitter’s other source of income is dwindling.

Here’s another thing to consider. I’m sure that Elon was banking on those who are legacy blue checkmark owners would pay to keep the checkmark. But…

While the verified checkmark is seemingly the main draw of the subscription, Twitter does tout other features that come with the subscription service, although most of the advertised benefits have yet to launch. Users can edit certain tweets, add more than 280 characters to a post, and attach longer videos.

If these added Twitter Blue benefits were to be enticing to anyone, it would be Twitter’s power users. However, according to Brown’s data, only 6,482 legacy verified accounts have paid to subscribe to Twitter Blue. 

There are approximately 420,000 legacy verified accounts in total, which are mostly celebrities, pro athletes, journalists, influencers, and other notable users that received the checkmark badge for free under Twitter’s old verification system.

Again, Elon’s not winning here. And it actually gets worse for Elon:

Twitter has already been struggling to grow Twitter Blue’s paid subscriber base. Will legacy verified accounts sign up for Twitter Blue to keep their blue checkmark? Judging by the sentiment on Twitter, it doesn’t appear that many are willing to do so. As even Twitter itself has reportedly noticed, users verified with the paid checkmark are often shunned by other users on the platform. And taking away legacy verification is likely to further cement the blue checkmark as scarlet letter on the platform.

This will sound familiar, but the lack of big names on Twitter with blue checkmarks next to their names lowers the value of the platform for other Twitter users or advertisers. But I am sure that Elon didn’t think that through before he came up with the idea of Twitter Blue.

Bad as that is, it gets even worse for Elon:

Many Twitter power users who have interacted with Twitter Blue subscribers note that they are most often far right wing accounts, cryptocurrency scammers, and hardcore Elon Musk supporters.

If I am an advertiser, these are the sorts of people I would be staying away from. And a lot of users of Twitter feel that way too. No wonder there’s a steady influx of users to Mastodon. Here’s the user count from 3PM EST:

Earlier today, I wrote that somewhere between one and two thousand users an hour are joining a Mastodon instance. That now seems to have crossed the two thousand an hour threshold. In other words the rate of people joining a Mastodon instance is increasing. That shows that Elon’s plans to make money are not only not working, but are driving users away from Twitter. Thus you have to wonder how long it will be before his $44 billion dollar investment, which is now worth $20 billion ends up being worthless.

Elon Musk Takes Even More Desperate Actions To Force People To Pay To Use Twitter

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 28, 2023 by itnerd

Elon Musk is getting really desperate to get people to pay to use Twitter. In his latest “Hail Mary” to get you to pay up, Elon’s decided to do the following:

So let’s think about this. Elon Musk is basically going to force Twitter users to pay up by keeping them from voting in polls and not showing them in the “for you” recommendations. I’m pretty sure that this is going to have the opposite effect. As in people will say that it’s not worth being on Twitter if Elon’s going to do this and instead of paying him $8 ($11 if you’re on iOS) a month to be on Twitter, they will instead run to Mastodon. Which appears to already be happening based on this:

For the last week or two, Mastodon has had somewhere between one and two thousand new accounts created every hour. You have to assume those are Twitter users who are fleeing the platform because of Elon’s behaviour, his idiotic policies, or instability of the platform. Such as what happened this morning according to Down Detector:

I am not sure what happened, but clearly something did an hour ago. And I expect this sort of random instability with Twitter to become more and more prevalent. All of that combined will diminish Twitter’s value to users and send them to greener pastures with more stable leadership. That in turn will reduce the value of Twitter to advertisers and deprive Elon of cash. And Twitter will die as a result and Elon will seen as a loser. Which will be a major blow to his fragile ego that I am not sue that he will be able to cope with.

Elon Musk Discloses That Twitter Is Worth Less Than Half Of What He Bought It For…. While Twitter’s Source Code Leaks

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 27, 2023 by itnerd

Elon Musk paid $44 billion USD for Twitter. And many said at the time he overpaid. But according to Musk, Twitter at present is worth less than HALF of what he paid for it:

Twitter is now worth just $20billion — less than half of what Elon Musk paid for it six months ago, the world’s richest man told his employees.

In a company-wide email on Friday, Musk said the social media giant has lost so much money in recent months that it is now worth jut $20billion, a whopping $24billion less than what he purchased it for in October.

He then went on to defend his decision to lay off thousands of employees in the months since he took the helm of the company, and sell off a variety of merchandise in recent auctions — claiming that Twitter was once just four months from being bankrupt.

That’s mind blowing. Sure Twitter wasn’t worth $44 billion. But prior to his purchase it was worth more that $20 billion via some quick Googling that I did. That illustrates how much he’s really screwed up here to tank the value of the company by that much money.

Oh yeah, there’s also this:

In his company-wide email on Friday, obtained by the New York Times, Musk defended his decisions to lay off massive swaths of employees, saying the ‘radical changes’ to the company were necessary to save money.

He claimed that Twitter should be looked at as an ‘inverse start-up’ as he tries to rebrand the company, saying: ‘Twitter is being reshaped rapidly.’

And if his efforts are successful, Musk suggested that Twitter can one day be worth $250billion.

His remarks came as he explained the new stock compensation package he is offering to the less than 2,000 employees still left at the company.

Under his plan, Twitter employees will receive stock grants for the company he established to buy the social media platform — the X Corporation — which will operate under the $20billion estimate.

Workers will then be able to sell and cash in on their privately-held stocks every six months. 

Doing so, he said, would allow employees to have ‘liquid stock, but without the stock price chaos and lawsuit burdens of a public company.’

Musk has previously implemented a similar program at his Space X firm. 

I don’t know what drugs Elon is smoking. But nothing that he’s done with Twitter indicates that this company will be worth $250 billion in the future. In fact I would say that Elon has sent Twitter’s valuation in the other direction. Clearly Elon is either stoned or delusional. Perhaps both.

Strangely, the fact that he’s tanked Twitter’s value by over 50% isn’t his worst problem at the moment. This is:

Parts of Twitter’s source code, the underlying computer code on which the social network runs, were leaked online, according to a legal filing, a rare and major exposure of intellectual property as the company struggles to reduce technical issues and reverse its business fortunes under Elon Musk.

Twitter moved on Friday to have the leaked code taken down by sending a copyright infringement notice to GitHub, an online collaboration platform for software developers where the code was posted, according to the filing. GitHub complied and took down the code that day. It was unclear how long the leaked code had been online, but it appeared to have been public for at least several months.

Twitter also asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to order GitHub to identify the person who shared the code and any other individuals who downloaded it, according to the filing.

Twitter launched an investigation into the leak and executives handling the matter have surmised that whoever was responsible left the San Francisco-based company last year, two people briefed on the internal investigation said. Since Mr. Musk bought Twitter in October for $44 billion, about 75 percent of the company’s 7,500 employees have been laid off or resigned.

The executives were only recently made aware of the source code leak, the people briefed on the internal investigation said. One concern is that the code includes security vulnerabilities that could give hackers or other motivated parties the means to extract user data or take down the site, they said.

Well, this is a huge problem for Elon as anyone who can grab this code from GitHub and evade detection by GitHub as to downloading this code, which frankly someone singular or plural is going to evade detection by GitHub, is going to have the means to make life a living hell for Twitter and Elon. Threat actors would be able to launch attacks on Twitter at will, then rinse and repeat as Twitter will only be able to close the attack vector that was used in any one attack. To have any hope of stopping this, Twitter would have to do a full code review to even begin to close any of the possible attack vectors that they can find. And even then they won’t get all of them as threat actors would be one step ahead of them. Not to mention that threat actors would likely come up with attacks that Twitter would never envision based on what they find in the source code. It’s the ultimate game of “whack a mole” where Twitter is always going to be on the losing end of it.

If you’re one of the few people who are still on Twitter, you might want to buckle up. Because I suspect that things are about to get very bumpy. And Elon is going to be having a number of sleepless nights in the weeks ahead.

Twitter’s Decision To Kill Legacy Verified Checkmarks On April Fools Day Is Elon Musk’s Latest Act Of Desperation

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 24, 2023 by itnerd

Normally, I would believe that this is an April fool’s joke. But given that we’re talking about Elon Musk here, it’s not a joke. It’s just his latest act of desperation. According to PC Magazine, Elon is about to do this:

No joke: On April 1, Twitter will start removing blue checkmarks from legacy verified users.

To retain the blue check, individuals must sign up for Twitter Blue, an $8-per-month subscription service ($11 on iOS) that lets folks write longer tweets, edit posts, upload 1080p video, access dedicated customer support, and more.

Twitter verification launched in 2009 to distinguish genuine, notable account holders—celebrities, organizations, etc.—from impersonators. Until November 2022, a blue checkmark indicated an account was actually owned by the entity it claimed to represent.

Since Elon Musk took over the platform, though, things have become more complicated. Musk has repeatedly said that those who received their blue checkmarks in the years before his acquisition are “totally corrupt” because some people allegedly paid for them. Going through a legit payment system from Apple or Google is more secure, he argued. But when Twitter Blue started selling access to a blue checkmark in early November, impersonators quickly seized on the opportunity. (Though it may have resulted in cheaper insulin in the US, oddly enough.)

This is a really stupid idea as I suspect that there will not be many people who presently have a checkmark are not going to pay $8 a month to Elon. And I also suspect it will drive those people from Twitter. And not having “notable” people on Twitter will make it far less appealing to advertisers. Thus you have to wonder if this is one of those things that Elon hasn’t thought through and will later do a 180 on. Or is he going to die on this hill just to try and make a few extra bucks.

Buckle up. This is going to interesting to watch.

Twitter Appears To Be Testing Using Government IDs To Sign Up For Twitter Blue

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 21, 2023 by itnerd

The folks at TechCrunch are reporting the following:

Twitter appears to be testing a new verification process for Twitter Blue subscribers that would involve submitting a government ID. Code-level insights reveal a process for sending in a photo of the user’s ID, both front and back, along with a selfie photo to verify their Twitter account. The feature is listed alongside others only available to Twitter Blue subscribers, like support for editing tweets, uploading longer videos, organizing bookmarks with folders and other paid subscription perks.

The ID upload feature was uncovered in Twitter’s code last week by product intelligence firm, but it’s unclear for now if it’s being tested externally. The firm told TechCrunch it believes the feature is in testing in the U.S., where it was found in the Android version of the Twitter app. However, it doesn’t know how many (or if any) Twitter users are actually seeing the feature as of yet.

Seeing as the launch of Twitter Blue has been a train wreck next to a dumpster fire to say the least, and very few Twitter users have signed up for it, I guess that Elon was forced to come up with something that makes it less likely to be a train wreck next to a dumpster fire as this will stop the impersonations and the other stuff that happened when Twitter Blue first launched. As for getting people to sign up for Twitter Blue, I have to assume that this is one piece of a bigger puzzle to encourage Twitter users to sign up for Twitter Blue. And we’ll have to wait to see what those other pieces are.

Elon Musk Wants You To Pay $42K A Month Or More To Access Data Via Twitter’s API… WTF?

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 13, 2023 by itnerd

I’ll start with the top level headline from Wired in terms of what Elon Musk would like you to pay for access to data via Twitter’s API, then I’ll tell you what I think:

Twitter’s API is used by vast numbers of researchers. Since 2020, there have been more than 17,500 academic papers based on the platform’s data, giving strength to the argument that Twitter owner Elon Musk has long claimed, that the platform is the “de facto town square.”

But new charges, included in documentation seen by WIRED, suggest that most organizations that have relied on API access to conduct research will now be priced out of using Twitter.

It’s the end of a long, convoluted process. On February 2, Musk announced API access would go behind a paywall in a week. (Those producing “good” content would be exempted.) A week later, he delayed the decision to February 13. Unsurprisingly, that deadline also slipped by, as Twitter suffered a catastrophic outage

The company is now offering three levels of Enterprise Packages to its developer platform, according to a document sent by a Twitter rep to would-be academic customers in early March and passed on to WIRED. The cheapest, Small Package, gives access to 50 million tweets for $42,000 a month. Higher tiers give researchers or businesses access to larger volumes of tweets—100 million and 200 million tweets respectively—and cost $125,000 and $210,000 a month. WIRED confirmed the figures with other existing free API users, who have received emails saying that the new pricing plans will take effect within months.  

I see thee possibilities for this rather stupid pricing scheme:

  • Elon has completely lost the plot in terms of his desperation to get Twitter to make money. And this is akin to a “Hail Mary” from Elon to get money in Twitter’s bank account.
  • Elon doesn’t want anyone doing deep dives on Twitter. Perhaps to cover up what a hate filled, right wing cesspool that it has become under Elon’s leadership. Thus he’s pricing it out of reach to accomplish that.
  • All of the above.

Nobody is going to pay these prices. That’s the bottom line. And the second possibility that I listed is perhaps bolstered by this:

While this sounds like a substantial dataset, it only accounts for around 0.3 percent of Twitter’s monthly output, meaning it is far from being a comprehensive snapshot of activity on the platform. Twitter’s free API access gave researchers access to 1 percent of all tweets.

If Elon is truly stupid enough to go ahead of this, it may cause him a big headache:

The timing of the change comes as the European Commission on Thursday will publish its first reports from social media companies, including Twitter, about how they are complying with the EU’s so-called code of practice on disinformation, a voluntary agreement between EU legislators and Big Tech firms in which these companies agree to uphold a set of principles to clamp down on such material. The code of practice includes pledges to “empower researchers” by improving their ability to access companies’ data to track online content.

Thierry Breton, Europe’s internal market commissioner, talked to Musk last week to remind him about his obligations regarding the bloc’s content rules, though neither discussed the upcoming shutdown of free data access to the social network.

“We cannot rely only on the assessment of the platforms themselves. If the access to researchers is getting worse, most likely that would go against the spirit of that commitment,” Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s vice president for values and transparency, told POLITICO.

“It’s worrying to see a reversal of the trend on Twitter,” she added in reference to the likely cutback in outsiders’ access to the company’s data.

While the bloc’s disinformation standards are not mandatory, separate content rules from Brussels, known as the Digital Services Act, also directly require social media companies to provide data access to so-called vetted researchers. By complying with the code of practice on disinformation, tech giants can ease some of their compliance obligations under those separate content-moderation rules and avoid fines of up to 6 percent of their revenues if they fall afoul of the standards.

Yet even Twitter’s inclusion in the voluntary standards on disinformation is on shaky ground. 

The company submitted its initial report that will be published Wednesday and Musk said he was committed to complying with the rules. But Camino Rojo — who served as head of public policy for Spain and was the main person at Twitter involved in the daily work on the code since November’s mass layoffs — is no longer working at the tech giant as of last week, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions within Twitter. Rojo did not respond to a request for comment.

If Elon seriously thinks he can take on the the EU and win, he’s delusional. Microsoft lost against them and Google lost against them. Which means he has zero chance against the EU. If I were him, I’d open up the API to all who want it at a level that makes sense for free. Say 1% to 5% of Tweets. But he’s not going to do that and as a result, he’s going to get into a fight with a group he has no hope of beating.

BBC Reports On Twitter Being Unable To Protect Users From Trolling And Other Evils Under Elon Musk…. And The Reporter Behind The Story Gets Death Threats As A Result

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 8, 2023 by itnerd

Twitter has become a toxic swamp of hate under Elon Musk. There’s honestly no question about that. And its being highlighted by this story from the BBC which illustrates that perfectly:

Twitter insiders have told the BBC that the company is no longer able to protect users from trolling, state-co-ordinated disinformation and child sexual exploitation, following lay-offs and changes under owner Elon Musk.

Exclusive academic data plus testimony from Twitter users backs up their allegations, suggesting hate is thriving under Mr Musk’s leadership, with trolls emboldened, harassment intensifying and a spike in accounts following misogynistic and abusive profiles. 

Current and former employees of the company tell BBC Panorama that features intended to protect Twitter users from trolling and harassment are proving difficult to maintain, amid what they describe as a chaotic working environment in which Mr Musk is shadowed by bodyguards at all times. I’ve spoken to dozens, with several going on the record for the first time.

The former head of content design says everyone on her team – which created safety measures such as nudge buttons – has been sacked. She later resigned. Internal research by Twitter suggests those safety measures reduced trolling by 60%. An engineer working for Twitter told me “nobody’s taking care” of this type of work now, likening the platform to a building that seems fine from the outside, but inside is “on fire”.

Twitter has not replied to the BBC’s request for comment.

I encourage you to read this full story as it paints a really ugly picture of what Twitter has become under Elon Musk. If you’re in the UK, I also encourage you to watch this BBC Panorama documentary which also details how bad Twitter is under Elon Musk. It’s truly mind blowing.

Now I was going to post everything that I wrote above as part of this story. But I ended up breaking this story into a separate one to add more details. Specifically this which was brought to light by a reader of the blog this morning:

What you see here is Elon basically giving Twitter users who follow him the permission to harass and threaten anyone he doesn’t like. In this case, this reporter who highlighted how bad Twitter has become under Elon. That by any standard is unacceptable. The fact is that Elon is a bully, and like most bullies he’s a scared one as apparently he walks around with bodyguards who even go into the washroom with him. What simply needs to happen is that someone bigger and tougher, like the FTC for example, needs to take him down. Or his shareholders at Tesla for example need to rise up and oust him as CEO. Or Twitter needs to crash and burn on his watch which would make look like a bigger loser than he already is. Because by the time that Elon is all but encouraging his followers to go after those he doesn’t like, you know that he’s someone that needs to held accountable for his behaviour. And the sooner that happens, the better.