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Elon Musk bought a $44 billion fixer-upper, and he’s not wasting any time gutting the joint.
If you spent the weekend trying to ignore the news, like I did, let’s catch up on what the Musk wrecking ball has targeted so far:
- Twitter’s top executives are out, though not empty handed: The former CEO, CFO and top lawyer are expected to walk away with a total of about $200 million in stock payouts and golden parachutes.
- Musk and his inner circle reportedly worked through the weekend to cement plans to lay off a quarter of the staff.
- Musk disbanded the board of directors on Monday (not unexpected, but notable).
- Twitter’s blue-check verification stamp — a feature that helps users distinguish which accounts are authentic — may be soon upended as Musk weighs allowing people to pay for it. (More on that in a minute).
- As if all that wasn’t keeping him busy enough, he also found time to call the New York Times “fake news” and tweeted an obviously untrue conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi.
And yes, this is all Textbook Musk. But what may have started as a prank (one that backfired and cost Musk $44 billion), has become a slow-motion digital-era trainwreck.
Why should you care?
Maybe you don’t use Twitter; maybe no one you know uses Twitter. And honestly, I can’t recommend you start trying it out now. But the fact is many of the politicians you vote for or against use it all the time; the journalists and scholars and business leaders who help shape day-to-day discourse around the world all use it. Musk himself has long favored using Twitter rather than an PR team to break news about his other companies like Tesla.
It is barely a tenth the size of Facebook, but Twitter has always had an outsize influence over the worlds of media, politics and tech, as my colleague Seth Fiegerman wrote.
And now that we’re seeing how Musk plans to cement his power over Twitter, people are nervous.
Pre-Musk, Twitter wasn’t a perfect place — it is still, after all, the internet. But the company was working on making it less hateful, less toxic, less tolerant of harassment that tends to snowball when mobs of humans begin typing in a whirl of self-righteous fervor. People who peddled hate speech and conspiracy theories were routinely banned.
Musk has made it clear he thinks Twitter was too strict on those people. And, not surprisingly, within hours of Musk sealing his ownership last week, a flood of racist tweets emerged from users who now feel emboldened to spew hate speech with impunity.
Musk said he wouldn’t make any immediate changes to content moderation, and tried to assuage investors that the site would not become a “hellscape” or a “free-for-all.”
But the blue-check verification issue is giving a lot of users pause.
The feature was an imperfect but useful way for Twitter users to quickly ascertain whether the information they’re engaging with is coming from the account it purports to be. For example, a tweet from @CNN, with a blue check, means it’s coming from actual CNN staff. An impostor might try to create a similar-looking account, but without the blue check, you know it’s not us.
Now, Musk-era Twitter is considering offering that status to any user willing to pay 20 bucks a month for it. And those of us already verified may have to start paying to keep our verification, according to internal Twitter documents viewed by CNN.
The pricing and details of the plans could change, of course. But either way, such a move fully change the meaning of the blue check, morphing into merely a status symbol for anyone with an extra $240 a year, while deterring folks who can’t pay for it.
Bottom line: Content moderation online is not a new or unstudied issue. In fact, lots of smart people have been working for years to figure out how to navigate all these thorny issues (many of those people work at Twitter, in fact).
Musk seems to think he can swoop in and sort it all out, all while making Twitter more profitable. I wish him the best of luck.
RELATED: Senator Chris Murphy is calling for an investigation into the national security implications of Saudi Arabian entities maintaining a massive stake in Twitter after helping Musk finance the takeover.
More grim economic data just arrived from the euro zone, underscoring expectations that a recession will arrive in Europe this winter.
Among the 19 countries that use the euro, inflation grew at a record annual rate of 10.7% in October, up from 9.9% in September, according to initial estimates released Monday. Energy prices jumped nearly 42% year-over-year, while the cost of food, alcohol and tobacco rose more than 13%.
Bottom line: Even thought Europe’s economy is still growing — albeit barely — consumers are increasingly strained and businesses will be forced to hoard cash. That’s also bad news for the US, which is less exposed to the inflationary effects of the war in Ukraine but is also struggling to rein in prices.
It’s Halloween, my absolute favorite holiday, so I want to talk about horror movies. You know, the fictional scary places we go to escape the non-fiction scaries of life in the 2020s.
And for that I turn to my colleague Frank “Craven” Pallotta, CNN Business’ resident expert on all things Hollywood and horror.
As Frank tells it, it’s a spooky time for the movie biz. The industry is still recovering from the pandemic. Movie theater audiences have been sporadic as streaming has expanded. The overall North America box office is down about 34% from the pre-Covid levels of 2019.
But horror, perhaps surprisingly, is proving to be Hollywood’s second-most dependable genre (after superhero movies, of course).
Horror, like an elaborate car chase or fancy fighter jet choreography, is just better on the big screen. The experience of a jump scare or a stomach churning psychological twist is enhanced when you’re sitting with 100 people whose hearts are also racing.
“Where else can you be with hundreds of strangers in a room all having the same exact experience?” Marc Weinstock, Paramount’s worldwide marketing and distribution president, told Frank. “You’re not distracted, you’re just sitting there and you have no idea what’s going to happen next. I think that’s something you can only experience in a theater.”
Case in point: One of Paramount’s biggest blockbusters this year is “Smile,” an unexpected hit about a psychiatrist being tormented by visions of horrifying smirks. It opened to $22.6 million at the domestic box office late September. That total is not so remarkable on paper, but it was enough to take the top spot its opening weekend and exceeded the film’s modest $17 million production budget.
“Smile” then did something Hollywood didn’t expect: it made nearly the same amount of money in its second weekend, with ticket sales dipping just 18% to $18.5 million. That’s an almost unheard of hold for a major film. For example, “Thor: Love and Thunder” dropped nearly 70% in its second weekend in July.
Bottom line: Horror’s relatively small budgets and tendency to draw theater audiences make them especially lucrative for the industry. And — good news for horror fans — that could lure studios to produce more of the often-maligned genre.
Read the full article here