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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twitter, a company well-acquainted with choppy waters, is having an especially rough moment. First, there was last week's brutal hack of high-profile accounts. Then, there was today's disappointing earnings report, along with the company's admission that it needs new sources of revenue, including subscriptions.

The big picture: Twitter has only grown in its importance to politics and culture in the U.S. even as the company's business fortunes have stagnated.

Driving the news: Twitter said Thursday that it's considering a subscription product offering to help offset losses in advertising during the pandemic.

  • CEO Jack Dorsey told analysts on the company's earnings call that they can expect to see the company experiment with some approaches this year, but he didn't specify further. 

Twitter continues to increase its user base even as advertising suffers.

  • The company added 20 million new monetizable daily active users in the second quarter, an increase of 34% year-over-year — but its ad revenue was down 23% over the same period.

Yes, but: Dorsey made it clear that he doesn't want any new subscription business to impact the company's ability to sell and serve ads. 

  • Many big media companies, from streaming companies to newspapers, have taken similar approaches recently, to help offset advertising losses. 
  • The advertising market, which tends to grow at roughly the same rate as the GDP, tends to shrink during economic downturns. 

Meanwhile, Twitter continues to deal with fallout from being hacked last week.

  • As of earlier this year, more than 1000 Twitter employees had access to the kind of administrative controls that hackers hijacked last week to take over accounts for Bill Gates, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg and others, according to a Reuters report.
  • That's despite the company's settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for a similar disaster nearly a decade ago.

In the middle of all this, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also got hit with letters from House Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican member, Rep. Jim Jordan, demanding that he join the CEOs of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook at the antitrust hearing that was planned for Monday (and is now likely to be postponed).

There's no sign Dorsey has any intention of showing up. No one has ever accused Twitter of holding a monopoly over anything. But the sideshow was a reminder of how out-of-place Twitter would be in that genuinely rich and powerful company.

Our thought bubble: Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon have all, in different ways, figured out how to reap enormous profits from the digital revolution. Twitter has not. If anything, it less resembles those big tech behemoths than the smaller, struggling media companies whose employees find its service so mesmerizing.

The bottom line: Twitter's greatest strength has been its ability to serve as an open commons, and even though it has often failed to keep it a safe and civil environment, that openness is what makes it valuable for journalists, politicians and engaged citizens. A subscription model could bolster the company's finances but limit its public value.

Go deeper

Acting DHS chief calls on Twitter to "commit to never" censoring content

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Friday, calling on him to "commit to never again censoring content" on the platform.

Driving the news: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said on Thursday the platform locked his account and removed a tweet about the effectiveness of the border wall.

Tracking the pandemic's unequal impact

Expand chart
Data: Morning Consult/Axios; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The pandemic was bound to hit the most economically vulnerable among us the hardest. New polling data from Morning Consult, out this morning, shows the degree to which those difficulties were more concentrated among people of color.

Catch up quick: The Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index has tracked the economic experience of adults in three wage groups since May 2020. We began publishing the findings in May of this year, and six months in, we’re slicing the data a little differently — and looking at inequality between ethnicities.

51 mins ago - Health

WHO says Omicron poses "very high" risk

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaking in Geneva in October. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization said Monday in a new risk assessment that it believes the COVID-19 Omicron variant poses a "very high" risk to the globe because it may be more transmissible than other strains of the virus.

Why it matters: Though the WHO acknowledged there are still many uncertainties associated with the variant, the agency said it believes the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron around the world is "high."