Comment: Bicycle’s Graeme Douglas on the scent of Musk at Twitter

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This week the European Union introduced new laws for Big Tech, which could mean tough times ahead for firms like Twitter, recently bought by Elon Musk

The Digital Services Act won’t be welcome news to the richest man in the world, who just told us he’s already got too much on his plate with his new social media plaything.

It does prove that the roller-coaster ride for one of the world’s most active social platforms is far from over and few can predict what will happen next, which has big implications for brands, advertisers and influencers.

So we asked media leader and Twitter blue tick owner Graeme Douglas, who is the CSO & Co-Founder of fast growing media agency Bicycle, for his longer-than-a-tweet take on these testing Twitter times…

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Mass firings. Sleeping in the office. Expectations of eighty hour working weeks. No it’s not a network ad agency (ouch!), but former champion of #lovewhereyouwork and now billionaire’s plaything, Twitter.

Full disclosure. I bloody love (loved) Twitter. I joined in 2006 and was user number 11,649. I was the first person to mention my beloved ‘Leeds United’ on Twitter, anywhere in the world. 

I have a lovely blue tick (god knows why) which will disappear soon as I refuse to pay my eight quid. 

My wife and I wouldn’t have got together had it not been for Twitter. I owe it loads. So, seeing what’s happening now is difficult to take. 

It’s always been a place of conflict. Remember the days of Trump? His penchant for stirring up argument (and worse) was depressingly remarkable. 

But used smartly, this could be mitigated. Content moderation was good (if not perfect) and the platform invested consistently and meaningfully in making the experience safer. Dickheads were often silenced, and ultimately, banned. 

Now it’s a free-for-all, a place fundamentally being built on disagreement and disillusionment.

It’s less Musk’s vision of the internet’s town square, instead more the internet’s fight club – and most depressingly, it’s all by design. It’s turned ugly.

Free speech

Musk wangs on about being a ‘free speech absolutist’ (except when he’s being parodied, of course), partly out of philosophical belief but also out of, I’m sure, a desire for attention that can be monetised. 

But this simply leads to polarisation and, if you’re an advertiser, it’s now a pretty unattractive place to be regardless of eyeballs. 

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Banned: No sign of Donald Trump yet on Twitter, but for how long?

The hellsite seems to be finally delivering against its reputation.

For example, as reported elsewhere, the US-based Center for Countering Digital Hate revealed that posts using the N-word were triple the 2022 average in his first week as owner. This isn’t free speech. It’s hate. 

Must have or ‘Musk’ not

Unlike Meta or Google, Twitter isn’t a ‘must have’ on anyone’s media plans. It has always occupied a vague “nice to have” space, which doesn’t make it very resilient to any sort of headwinds, let alone self-created ones.

Mainstream brands don’t want risk or conflict from their media buys. 

Unless there’s a very, very specific cause, there are dwindling reasons as to why you wouldn’t simply drop the platform from your plans. 

There’s very little potential upside to its inclusion and very significant potential downside (including the recent wheeze of ‘verified imitation’ sweeping the platform). Who wants to advertise in a warzone?

I’m not sure Musk really cares, or at least, he hasn’t thought about it properly (Remember he’s not a huge advertising advocate anyway – see his comments at Tesla – and he’s gone on the record saying the platform needs to significantly drop its ‘over reliance’ on ad revenue) and he’s already shown pretty wanton disregard for advertisers – although in his characteristic manner he partially backtracked quite swiftly. 

However, he’s paid $44bn for Twitter, a decent slug of which is his own cash. Whilst he doesn’t need the money personally (I’m convinced he did it for other reasons: if I’m being generous, it’s a strategic play to create his ‘Western WeChat’ and if I’m not… well, absolute power corrupts absolutely) he needs to make it a going concern. 

I would humbly suggest alienating both core users and advertisers isn’t the way to go. 

The hellsite is on fire. It’s going to take an awful lot of time, effort and action to win back the trust of advertisers that have fled and even then, with the explosion of opportunities elsewhere and in the face of rapidly decreasing consumer confidence, will it simply be too little, too late?

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