“The bird is freed”

On October 28th 2022, Musk infamously tweeted: “the bird is freed” in reference to the finalisation of his purchase. However, a more accurate version of this post would have been “the staff are freed”, as the new CEO almost immediately culled around 80% of Twitter’s staff. This included senior figures such as CFO Ned Sega, head of legal policy Vijaya Gadde, and former CEO Parag Agrawal.

He also disbanded the trust and safety council, which was created in 2016 to address problems of child exploitation, suicide and self-harm on the platform. Not exactly a good look for someone whose critics’ main concerns have been that Musk would turn Twitter into a free-speech haven for all the wrong kinds of people.

“The people have spoken”

On October 22nd, Musk posted: “The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” This tweet is in reference to a poll he posted three days prior, asking users to vote whether former president Donald Trump’s account should be unblocked. Trump’s account had been suspended after the January 6th Capitol riot for violating Twitter guidelines and due to the risk of inciting further violence.

With over 15 million votes, only a slim majority were in favour of reinstating Trump’s account, with 51.8% for and 48.2% against. Hardly an overwhelming result. Interestingly, one of the people who wasn’t in favour of reinstatement was the former president himself, who said “I don’t see any reason for it” and that he would stick to his own platform Truth Social. With even former Twitterholic Donald Trump feeling disillusioned with Twitter, even Musk had to have struggled denying that the platform was rife with issues.

During his tenure as CEO after buying Twitter (a multi-month shitshow that he tried to back out of), Musk introduced many controversial changes to the platform. This included reinstating banned accounts, culling the platform’s workforce, and introducing an $8 charge for the blue verification badge that was almost instantly exploited by trolls. And that’s not to mention the bizarre choice to rename the platform to X.

The huge initial success of Threads spoke volumes about user dissatisfaction with Twitter. However, its glory days didn’t last long.

“Starting today, Twitter will share ad revenue”

On February 3rd 2023, Musk posted:”Starting today, Twitter will share ad revenue with creators for ads that appear in their reply threads”. With the new Twitter CEO himself stating that the platform was losing over $4 million a day, it was pretty clear that this new policy of sharing ad revenue was designed to bring in more money to keep things afloat.

He followed up this announcement by stating that “To be eligible, the account must be a subscriber to Twitter Blue Verified”. This created a pay-to-play situation encouraging users to create content in order to earn a tiny share of the profits. With no proper vetting or fact checking, it seemed inevitable that the accounts would take advantage of this system by sharing extreme or controversial content guaranteed to generate engagement.

“All news is to some degree propaganda”

On April 9th, after former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tweeted that Ukraine was a “Nazi regime”, Musk defended his right to tweet, and said that “All news is to some degree propaganda. Let people decide for themselves.” Twitter’s trust and safety team had been known to apply “visibility filtering rules” to Russian government accounts and state-affiliated media accounts from countries “limit access to free information”. Medvedev’s account was previously one of those that was filtered and, understandably, many users were concerned about the spread of misinformation.

Musk’s throwing-his-toys-out-of-the-pram approach was to add the tag “state-sponsored media” to posts from a variety of reputable news outlets. While it had previously been reserved for blatant propaganda from Russian and Chinese sources, it was now being added to posts from the BBC and NPR under claims that it meant giving equal weight to all information.

“X.com now points to “twitter.com”

On July 23rd, Musk finally made good on his plans to rebrand Twitter as he posted: “X.com now points to twitter.com. Interim X logo goes live later today.” The billionaire has long had a bit of an obsession with the letter X, using it in everything from business names and car models to his own child’s inscrutable name. In 1999, he co-founded an online banking company called X.com, which later merged with Confinity and became PayPal. Having bought the domain from PayPal back in 2017, saying the name had “great sentimental value”, it seems that Musk had finally found the right project to take it over.

Of course, users and marketers alike pointed out the insanity of throwing away one of the most successful brands of recent years. From the instantly recognisable blue bird logo to the seamless vocabulary of tweeting and retweeting, Musk has obliterated 17 years of brand heritage and online community to make all his toys match.

Elon Musk’s recommendation of war coverage from accounts that have made false claims or antisemitic comments.

“@WarMonitors and @sentdefender are good”

On October 8th, following the previous day’s Hamas atrocities, Musk advised in a since-deleted post: “For following the war in real-time, @WarMonitors and @sentdefender are good.” While he followed this up by saying: “It is also worth following direct sources on the ground”, it’s hard to look past the platform’s owner recommending coverage from accounts that have been known to make false claims and antisemitic comments.

The recent conflict demonstrates just how well (read: poorly) the revamped social media platform conveys and verifies accurate information during a major crisis. A cursory search on X for posts about Israel and Gaza returns copious debunked information and (to use Trump’s favourite term) fake news designed to incite hatred. Following new laws regulating content on social media viewed within the EU, Thierry Breton, the commissioner of the Digital Services Act, has issued a warning to Elon Musk about the content shared on the platform. In a letter dated October 10th, Breton stated that there is evidence that “your platform is being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation in the EU.” Failure to comply will see Musk slapped with a fine of 6% of his revenues from X or a total blackout in the EU.

Does Twitter still have the X factor?

It’s been a turbulent 12 months for Twitter/X, with some internet users wondering whether the tech billionaire has been deliberately trying to tank the platform. Whether he’s trying to run the business into the ground or is genuinely just this bad at business, it doesn’t look like Musk’s unhinged posts and questionable strategies are going to slow down any time soon.

However, as one of internet’s oldest still-operational social media platforms, there’s a strong history and community behind the blue bird that isn’t that easy to kill. Even Threads, the fastest-growing platform in history, wasn’t able to topple the short-form text giant. So it seems that X is here to stay (or the time being, at least), and nobody has any idea what the next 12 months have in store for the world’s social media users and fake news outlets.

One thing is for sure: Social media is a tricky business. If you’d rather put your tweets (or whatever we’re calling them now) in the hands of a professional, speak to DWH and we’ll make sure your business’ social media strategy is sound.