'Elon Musk doesn't know what he's doing', says former Twitter executive

UK-based former vice president Bruce Daisley thinks Tesla bosses have underestimated the complexity of its restructuring plan.

Elon Musk "didn't know what he was doing" with Twitter and "worried everyone", said a former executive, after major brands stopped spending their ads on the platform and the company laid off thousands of staff.

Bruce Daisley, Twitter's vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa from 2015 to 2020, said he was devastated by the undemocratic changes on Twitter and would leave the platform without hesitation if a good alternative existed.

"I think Elon thought he was going to come in and work it all out and so quickly he'd get it done that it's a lot more complicated," he told The News Agents podcast this weekend. "It's pretty clear from every public action he's taken with this whole acquisition: he doesn't know what he's doing." Daisley, who is Twitter's most senior executive in London, also criticized Musk's plans to charge users $8 per month for the "blue tick verification symbol." He told the Observer Musk traded "verified source legitimacy" for "pocket money". "The fact that we have no recourse to it is undemocratic," he said.

And he tweeted in support of a Twitter employee who was fired on Friday amid mass layoffs, which he described as having "helped combat abusive tweets against high-profile Twitter users". Daisley wrote: "In four weeks, when there is a racist tweet from the World Cup on the front page, remember Musk chose to let it happen." The fierce criticism comes after Musk implemented a series of changes on Twitter that have sparked concerns about his approach to misinformation and hate speech.

On Friday, billionaire Tesla - who bought Twitter on October 27 for $44 billion - laid off about 50% of Twitter employees, saying he had "no choice" because the company was spending more than $4 million a day. The layoffs reportedly decimated teams that covered human rights, ethics and curation. That also includes people in moderation, although Twitter's head of security, Yoel Roth, said "core moderation capabilities" remained.

On Saturday, Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former chief executive of Twitter, suggested the mass layoffs were necessary because he had progressed too fast. “I have a responsibility why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company too fast. I'm sorry for that," said Dorsey, who resigned from Twitter's board in May and has supported Musk's takeover.

Hours after the mass layoffs, US president Joe Biden summoned Musk and criticized misinformation on Twitter, saying at a campaign event in Chicago that he had bought clothes that "spewed lies all over the world".

Musk has previously said he would liberalize Twitter policies in the name of free speech, indicating he would allow previously banned accounts to rejoin, but has stressed that Twitter's "strong commitment" to moderation remains "totally unchanged".

Last week, he announced the creation of a content moderation board, bringing together “very diverse viewpoints”, and said no decision on account moderation or reinstatement would be taken until the board convenes.

Even so, Twitter appears to have spooked some advertisers, with some reportedly having stopped spending their ads and others understood to be considering their position.

General Mills, known for its Cheerios cereals and Lucky Charms, became the latest to temporarily pause its advertising on the platform last Thursday, with a spokesperson saying it would "continue to monitor" Twitter's new direction. Pfizer, Mondelez, General Motors and Volkswagen have also reportedly suspended their spending.

In a tweet on Friday, Musk said Twitter had seen a "massive drop in revenue" and blamed "activist groups" for suppressing advertisers. "Messed up! They are trying to destroy free speech in America," he told his 114 million followers. He then suggested that he would publish the names of the advertisers who stopped their spending, tweeting that "the thermonuclear name & shame is what will happen if this continues".

Earlier this week, Stop Toxic Twitter, a coalition including the NAACP, asked the platform's 20 biggest advertisers to notify Musk that they would suspend advertising if he followed through on plans to "undermine social networking community standards and content moderation".

Stephan Loerke of the World Federation of Advertisers said a number of brands were considering their actions, but would judge Twitter based on "facts and actions", rather than speculation. “We heard from the Twitter ownership that they remain committed to the progress made so far. We'll be collaborating with Twitter on that basis and we'll be judging them based on actions," he told the Observer.

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