Twitter's new CEO Elon Musk said on Sunday the social media platform's mission was to become the most accurate source of information about the world, sparking debate about how it would achieve that and who determines what is accurate.
A flurry of drastic measures, including sacking half the staff and charging users, that Musk has taken since he took over Twitter in a $44 billion deal just about a week ago has provided some early clues to how the platform will be reshaped by the world's richest person.
Some advertisements have pulled spending since the deal was announced, with Musk blaming activist groups for pressuring advertisers amid concerns about its content moderation.
"Twitter needs to become by far the most accurate source of information about the world. That’s our mission," Musk said on Sunday.
His tweet instantly triggered tens of thousands of replies and provoked lively debates on how the mission will be achieved.
"Accurate to who?" Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey asked.
Musk, who also runs electric vehicle company Tesla and rocket firm SpaceX, said last month Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with "widely diverse viewpoints."
The self-described free speech absolutist said at the time that no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.
Musk also said on Sunday that Twitter users engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying it as a "parody" account will be permanently suspended without warning.
The warning came after some celebrities changed their Twitter display names – not their account names – and tweeted as "Elon Musk" in reaction to the billionaire's decision to offer verified accounts to all comers for $8 month as he simultaneously laid off a big chunk of the workforce.
Musk said Twitter previously issued a warning before the suspension, but as Twitter is rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning as well as "no exceptions."
"This will be clearly identified as a condition for signing up to Twitter Blue," Musk said, adding "any name change at all" will cause a temporary loss of the verified checkmark.
Comedian Kathy Griffin had her account suspended Sunday after she switched her screen name to "Musk." She told a Bloomberg reporter that she had also used his profile photo.
"I guess not ALL the content moderators were let go? Lol," Griffin joked afterward on Mastodon, an alternative social media platform where she set up an account last week.
Actor Valerie Bertinelli had similarly appropriated Musk's screen name – posting a series of tweets in support of Democratic candidates on Saturday before switching back to her true name. "Okey-dokey. I've had fun and I think I made my point," she tweeted afterward.
Before the stunt, Bertinelli noted the original purpose of the blue verification checkmark. It was granted free of charge to people whose identity Twitter employees had confirmed; with journalists accounting for a big portion of recipients.
"It simply meant your identity was verified. Scammers would have a harder time impersonating you," Bertinelli noted.
"That no longer applies. Good luck out there!" she added.
Twitter on Saturday updated its app in Apple's App Store to begin charging $8 for the sought-after blue check verification marks as it seeks to shore up revenue.
Benefits of the verification service would include "half the ads," the ability to post longer videos to Twitter and priority ranking for quality content, the company said.
It said the service would first be available in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. However, it was not available Sunday and there was no indication of when it would go live.
A Twitter employee, Esther Crawford, told the Associated Press (AP) it is coming "soon but it hasn't launched yet."
Earlier on Sunday, the New York Times reported Twitter is delaying the rollout of verification check marks to subscribers of its new service until after Tuesday's midterm elections.
In a sign of more confusion after Musk's takeover, Twitter is now reaching out to dozens of employees who lost their jobs and asking them to return, Bloomberg News reported on Sunday.
Some of those who are being asked to return were laid off by mistake. Others were let go before management realized that their work and experience may be necessary to build the new features Musk envisions, the report said citing people familiar with the moves.
Musk tweeted late Friday that there was no choice but to cut jobs "when the company is losing over $4M/day." He did not provide details on the daily losses at Twitter and said employees who lost their jobs were offered three months' pay as severance.