Feature – From sex workers to bakers, Twitter business users fear loss


Data security, hate speech are major concerns


Some entrepreneurs are prioritizing other platforms


Musk says Twitter usage hits record high

Authors: Kim Harrisburg and Adam Smith

JOHANNESBURG/LONDON, Nov 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A bi Oyewole has built a thriving online business selling badges from her home in Canada during the pandemic by promoting her work on Twitter , Stickers And Jewelry.

Now, she fears she could lose many of her 25,000 followers if users abandon the platform, as Elon Musk has introduced many changes since taking the helm of the social media company.

After Musk’s $44 billion acquisition in October, half of the platform’s staff was laid off — specialists including ethics teams and engineers, paid account verifications came and went, and pay-to-view video content was proposed.

Self-employed people and small businesses who use Twitter as a marketing platform – from online sex workers in the UK to home bakers in South Africa – are concerned that turmoil on the platform could affect their revenues.

“Business owners didn’t know what to expect,” said Oyewole, 32, who started the business while waiting for disability benefits at her Calgary home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Something happens every day and it looks like the website is crashing,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call.

With 238 million daily active users, the platform is the primary advertising medium for businesses of all sizes and was found to be used by approximately 82% of global businesses surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute in 2021.

So far, there are no consistent estimates or data showing whether user numbers have declined since Musk took power. He said earlier this week that usage “just hit a new all-time high.”

If Twitter’s algorithm picks an ad for a small business, it can boost its visibility at no extra cost to the website or marketing team, said Charles Isidi, an entrepreneurial consultant to dozens of African businesses.

“(But) if a business is going to spend (money) on advertising, Twitter needs to make a strong business case that they will get more than that in return while feeling safe on the platform,” Isidi said.

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

“arbitrary rules”

For British online sex worker Countess Diamond, Twitter has been crucial as it is one of the main social networks not to ban adult content, despite the restrictions she faces.

More than 34,000 people have visited Diamond’s website in the past month, the vast majority from Twitter or Linktree, the website directory platform she uses on her Twitter account, she said.

The content that Diamond, 34, and two of her employees produce is generally banned on the platform — meaning her Twitter handle doesn’t show up in searches, she said.

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

Musk also promised that Twitter will be more suitable for content creators. In addition to the platform’s existing tipping function or super attention, he also proposed paid long videos, which will bring creators greater income than YouTube.

But Diamond was not convinced.

“It’s incredible not to have to leave the platform, but there are such arbitrary rules when it comes to the terms of service,” she said.

Even with clearer rules, key members of Twitter’s security and engineering teams who left the company cast doubt on the company’s security, she said, and she didn’t want to put her employees at risk with a data breach.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for sex workers and people whose content is already marginalized online,” Diamond said.

“Into the Wild”

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

Musk has said that “Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged,” but business owners worry that the platform may no longer be a safe or ideal place to sell.

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

“Every time I log on, I feel like I’ve stepped into the wilderness,” said Tsopo, a Zimbabwean who said hate speech against South African foreigners made it intolerable to enter the platform even before Musk fired the ethics expert.

Tsopo said he would prefer to continue selling primarily on other platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, adding that the possible reappearance of $8 verified payments would deal another major blow to micro-businesses.

‘Dead or Alive’

Twitter is also a lifeline for Rwanda’s Edgard Ntamvutsa, who has since tweeted a photo of a handmade laptop stand he designed for his wife during the lockdown. Small woodworking businesses have hundreds of orders across the country.

“It just went viral,” said the 32-year-old, adding that while the platform’s future is uncertain and sales have dipped recently, he intends to hedge his bets and stick with it , in case they pick up again.

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

But Oyewole, who relies on her Twitter followers during the holidays, when most sales occur, worries that small businesses with marginalized entrepreneurs — such as LGBTQ+ or users with disabilities like hers — will be impacted by Musk’s overhaul of Twitter.

“It’s a matter of life and death for a lot of people, and it’s how we eat and pay our bills,” she said.

“It shouldn’t be up to some random billionaire to change things without regard for those affected by society.”

Originally published at: https://www.context.news/big-tech/from-sex-workers-to-bakers-twitter-business-users-fear-losses (Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg in Johannesburg and Adam Smith in 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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