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COLUMBIA, Missouri — As concern about Twitter increases under new leadership and changing guidelines, some large corporations and businesses are removing ads and leaving the mega social media platform. Among the list: a small cat café and a nonprofit health care provider in Columbia.
After billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter last month, the platform introduced a new program that allowed users to pay about $8 a month for a blue verification check mark by their username. The check mark is intended to verify the identity of a notable account such as legitimate businesses or government entities. But the new program opened users to the risk of being impersonated by seemingly-legit accounts.
A large example of this came days ago when an account with a blue check mark posed as Indiana-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. The account tweeted: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” The tweet alone caused the company to lose billions in market capitalization, according to the Toronto Star. In response, the company halted all ad campaigns from the platform.
Musk has since paused the verification program and plans to roll it out differently later this month. But some businesses are reevaluating the importance of continuing to use Twitter to promote business.
“I think anytime there’s changes in platforms in terms of functionality, in terms of culture, in terms of things like large layoffs… it creates uncertainty” said Rebecca Dohrman, a senior lecturer in management communication at Washington University.
Large companies such as General Mills, Chipotle, United Airlines and Volkswagen have pulled advertising from the platform. Others are leaving altogether.
One of those businesses is Spectrum Health Care, a nonprofit medical clinic in Columbia that provides programs such as HIV, sexually transmitted disease and infection testing, housing assistance and birth control services. Twitter’s new guidelines were only a subsection of the many issues the nonprofit experienced with the platform. The nonprofit made the decision to suspend its account on Monday.
“This was kind of the final straw with Twitter as a not for profit and as an organization that exists in a healthcare landscape,” said Cale Mitchell, executive director of Spectrum Health Care. “It is vital that we have verifiable and scientific information that is shared and is reliable. And on any platform where that reliability is put in jeopardy, and misinformation is so rampant, that is not a safe space for us to operate in.”
SHC has chosen to suspend posting on Twitter for the time being due to recent changes to the platform. You may still find all things Spectrum on other platforms, our website, and by signing up for our mailing list. #SHCmo pic.twitter.com/m5IWV4a8Qb
— Spectrum Health Care (@shc_mo) November 14, 2022
Spectrum has been fighting misinformation on Twitter since the start of the pandemic, when users were subjected to false information about COVID-19 vaccination safety and reliability, Mitchell said. This misinformation has in turn inhibited the nonprofit from treating patients.
“We still have a lot of patients who are ‘I’m not going to put that in my body’,” Mitchell said, referring to vaccines. “We are getting a lot of patients who are coming in and (saying) ‘Well I Googled this’ and doing that level of information gathering like, ‘Well I saw on Facebook that this is what happened.’”
Mitchell added that at least patients could reference Twitter accounts like medical center Mayo Clinic for correct information, however that is no longer viable with the rise of account impersonations.
“But again, now on Twitter, (you’re) really not sure that it’s the Mayo Clinic, really not sure it’s Johns Hopkins, really not sure that it’s the CDC,” Mitchell said. “So some of those assurances of good information got taken out of the mix.”
Alongside Twitter’s new guidelines, businesses also are taking a stance against the change in leadership of the company. Musk’s takeover and uncertain stance on free speech has opened up increased hate speech on the platform. Racial slurs, antisemitism, homophobic and transphobic slurs soared after Musk’s purchase of the platform, the Associated Press reports.
Earlier this month, Papa’s Cat Café, a cat adoption, visitation and coffee shop in Columbia, deleted its Twitter account, citing hate, bigotry and discrimination as the reason for leaving as well as the rise of misinformation. The business instead will continue using Facebook and Instagram to advertise to customers, according to its final tweet.
A brand’s reliance to advertise on Twitter rather than other social media platforms depends on the engagement of its audience, Dohrman said. She advised that businesses review their analytics on Twitter and decide if they should stay or move onto other platforms.
“Collectively, every brand has to look at the audience that they are trying to reach and the platform that social media gives them, just like any other channel, and the extent to which their advertising dollars on that platform allows them to reach the audience that they’re trying to reach,” Dohrman said.
Spectrum has left its account open in case guidelines change to address misinformation.
“I will say, while we are not actively posting to Twitter anymore, we didn’t abandon our Twitter feed, we didn’t close up shop, just on the off chance that they get their act together and if it does become a safe place, a verifiable place, to do and share ideas and information,” Mitchell said. “So we may return, we may not. Time will tell.”
Sarah Rubinstein is a reporter for Missouri Business Alert. From Memphis, Tennessee, she currently resides in Columbia getting her bachelors in journalism at the University of Missouri.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.