FEATURE-From prostitutes to bakers, business Twitter users fear losses

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Data security, hate speech among top concerns

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Some entrepreneurs are prioritizing other platforms

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Musk says Twitter usage is at an all-time high

By Kim Harrisberg and Adam Smith

JOHANNESBURG/LONDON, Nov. 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — A bi Oyewole has built a thriving online business selling badges, stickers and jewelry by promoting his creations on Twitter from his home in Canada during the pandemic.

Now he fears he could lose many of his 25,000 followers if users leave the platform due to the many changes introduced by Elon Musk since taking helm of the social media company.

Following a $44 billion acquisition by Musk in October, half of the platform’s staff were laid off, including specialists in the ethics and engineering teams, paid account verification came and went, and video content was served up. pay to view.

The self-employed and small businesses that use Twitter as a marketing platform — from online sex workers in Britain to home bakers in South Africa — are anxious that the upheaval on the platform could disrupt their incomes.

“Entrepreneurs don’t know what to expect,” said Oyewole, 32, who started the business while waiting for his disability benefits at home in Calgary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every day there’s always something happening and it seems like the site is falling apart,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call.

The platform, which has 238 million daily active users, is a key advertising medium for businesses of all sizes, with around 82% of global businesses surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute in 2021 finding they use Twitter.

At present, there are no estimates or consistent data showing whether the number of users has decreased since Musk took charge. He said earlier this week that usage “just hit another all-time high.”

If Twitter’s algorithms pick up an advertisement for a small business, they can boost its visibility without the added expense of a website or marketing team, said Charles Isidi, a startup consultant for dozens of African companies.

“(But) if a company is going to spend (money) on advertising, Twitter needs a strong business case that it will give back more while feeling safe on the platform,” Isidi said.

A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘ARBITRARY RULES’

For British prostitute Countess Diamond, Twitter was crucial because it is one of the leading social networks that does not ban adult content, although it has been restricted.

More than 34,000 people visited Diamond’s website in the past month, and the vast majority came from Twitter or through its Linktree, a website directory platform, which it uses on its Twitter account, he said.

Content produced by 34-year-old Diamond and her two staffers is often shadow-banned on the platform, meaning her Twitter account doesn’t appear in searches, she said.

While Musk has said that under his leadership some, if not all, accounts that have been restricted will see the limits lifted, it’s unclear when that will happen.

Musk also promised that Twitter will be better for content creators, offering long-form videos protected by paywalls that will give creators a bigger cut of revenue than YouTube, in addition to the platform’s existing rollover feature or Super Follows.

But Diamond is not convinced.

“It would be amazing not to have to leave the platform, but there are such arbitrary rules when it comes to terms of service,” he said.

Even if the rules were clearer, key members of Twitter’s security and engineering team who have left the company have expressed doubts about how secure it will be, and she doesn’t want to risk putting her employees at risk if the data is leaked. he has declared.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a good thing for sex workers and people whose content is already marginalized in an online sphere,” Diamond said.

‘ENTER THE WILD’

Rights groups are also concerned about a potential surge in hate speech, with the loss of specialist rights and ethics teams, and reports of heavy cuts in regional headquarters, including in Asia and Africa.

Musk said “Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged,” but business owners fear the platform may no longer be a safe or desirable site for sales.

“I don’t feel safe on Twitter these days,” said Davy Tsopo, a former cleaner turned baker, whose online business has taken off in Johannesburg during the pandemic lockdown.

“Every time I log in it feels like I’m stepping into the desert,” said Tsopo, a Zimbabwean, who said hate speech against foreign nationals in South Africa had made stepping on the platform unbearable, even before Musk fired the ethics specialists.

Tsopo said he would prefer to continue selling mainly on other platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, adding that the possible reappearance of the $8 verification payment would be another blow to micro-enterprises.

‘LIFE OR DEATH’

Twitter has also been a lifeline for Edgard Ntamvutsa of Rwanda, whose small woodworking business has garnered hundreds of orders across the country since he tweeted an image of a handmade laptop stand he designed for his wife during the lockdown.

“It just went viral,” the 32-year-old said, adding that while the future of the platform was uncertain and sales had recently declined, he would hedge his bets and stick around in case they pick up again.

Musk said this week that he hopes to complete an organizational restructuring and eventually find a new leader to run the company.

But Oyewole, who relies on her Twitter followers for the holiday season when most sales happen, fears that small businesses of marginalized entrepreneurs — like LGBTQ+ or disabled users like herself — will suffer most from Musk’s Twitter overhaul.

“This is life or death for a lot of people. This is how we eat and pay our bills,” she said.

“It shouldn’t be up to some random billionaire to change things without considering the people affected in society.”

Originally posted at: https://www.context.news/big-tech/from-sex-workers-to-bakers-twitter-business-users-fear-losses (Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg in Johannesburg and Adam Smith at London. Edited by Rina Chandran and Helen Popper. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.context.news)

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