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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.

Updated 50 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Trump received COVID vaccine at White House in January — CDC director warns "now is not the time" to lift COVID restrictions.
  2. Education: More schools are reopening in the U.S.
  3. Vaccine: J&J CEO "absolutely" confident in vaccine distribution goals Most states aren't prioritizing prisons for COVID vaccines — Vaccine hesitancy is shrinking.
  4. Economy: Apple says all U.S. stores open for the first time since start of pandemic — What's really going on with the labor market.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.
  6. World: Latin America turns to China and Russia for COVID-19 vaccines.
Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Latin America turns to China and Russia for COVID-19 vaccines

Several countries in the Americas have received their first vaccine shipments over the past few weeks — not from the regional superpower or from Western pharmaceutical giants, but from China, Russia, and in some cases India.

Why it matters: North and South America have been battered by the pandemic and recorded several of the world’s highest death tolls. Few countries other than the U.S. have the capacity to manufacture vaccines at scale, and most lack the resources to buy their way to the front of the line for imports. That’s led to a scramble for whatever supply is available.