Ever since Elon Musk began flirting with the idea of owning Twitter there has been an active discussion over Twitter's place in online discourse, how privatization of the platform could affect its users, and whether or not someone like Elon Musk could actually improve the platform. As we are finding out in real time, Elon Musk is in no way, shape, or form the right person to actually run Twitter.
How We Got Here
In January of 2022 Elon Musk began involving himself in the direction of Twitter through the purchasing of shares of the company. Over the course of the next few months he would increasingly purchase more shares to have influence over the future direction of the platform.
Two things were made apparent at this time. Mr. Musk vehemently disagreed with the direction of the platform at that time and believed himself to be the saving grace. As he acquired more shares within the company, he began a discussion regarding acquiring Twitter as a whole.
On Monday, April 25, 2022 he would proceed to reach an agreement with Twitter to acquire the company at a price that many financial experts deemed to be highly inflated. For most of the year we would be in a back and forth argument between Musk and Twitter regarding whether Twitter was upholding its end of the deal by providing statistics about the platform itself including information about how many bot accounts could be detected on the website.
In the end, Musk finally settled with Twitter during what was looking to be a lengthy court battle. On Friday, October 28, 2022 Elon Musk took complete control over Twitter, promptly firing key executives in the company as he began ransacking the company to reduce operating expenses while trying to publicly humiliate executives that had criticized him in the past.
In December of 2022 Twitter found itself a shadow of its former self. With only a fraction of the engineers and advertisers on board, the current state of the platform is far from safe. It's becoming increasingly likely that Twitter is heading towards a bankruptcy and the future of the platform is all but certain.
Challenges Under New Ownership
With Twitter under new ownership, it has undergone a series of changes which have undermined the structure the previous owners worked hard to establish for its long-term viability. Social media platforms face a number of challenges ranging from engagement (keeping users active on the platform) to sustainability (turning a profit without sacrificing performance) which require a degree of bureaucracy to take into consideration a growing number of challenges it will face to remain successful.
When Elon officially became the owner and CEO of Twitter, he decided to cut approximately half of the jobs at Twitter through mass layoffs. In this decision, it seems the billionaire could be running afoul of the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN act). Twitter would proceed to immediately remove access for the employees being let go, though Twitter would turn around and try to rehire the employees they had failed through this hasty decision making.
On top of terminating a large number of employees as an emergency cost-saving measure, Elon would terminate the remote work policy Twitter put in place as a necessity to address the difficulties it was facing during the pandemic. It’s interesting to note that Musk’s insistence of ensuring 40 hours of in-office time is sure to increase costs while decreasing worker satisfaction, which are two factors that investors will find devastating to the long-term sustainability of the platform.
It’s becoming crystal clear through Musk’s mocking of “woke” culture and strategically trapping foreign workers inside of an “overwork” culture that he holds no regard for the people that work under him. It’s also clear he holds no respect for the platform that was built which he has acquired, opting to try to morph it into what he wants rather than trying to improve upon what is already there.
Selling Trust for $8
While gutting the company of its talent served to be a rather controversial decision, Musk would up the ante by offering everyone on the platform an opportunity to verify themselves for the low cost of $20. Prior to this, users would need to prove themselves to be a notable figure in order to obtain a checkmark. However, upon receiving backlash from a growing number of notable figures, Elon backtracked and immediately offered it as a part of an increased-cost Twitter Blue subscription.
Twitter has always had an issue with imposters on the platform. Given the way the platform works, anyone can claim a handle that has not already been claimed. Users are able to change their name on the platform and add whatever image they want within reason. As a result, many users would create parody accounts of notable figures to poke fun of popular personalities.
Twitter launched their verification service in June of 2009 to help the average user differentiate notable figures from counterparts which exist for parody or satire. Even from the start the platform had trouble with the verification service, but would ultimately improve upon it over time with each of the different scandals it would face.
Some could view Musk’s recent actions as a way of selling out the limited amount of trust Twitter had built in its verification process. By selling the checkmark for a fee, it would ultimately reduce the meaning and the limited nature of the checkmark itself. When notable figures equated the new charge to extortion, the platform created a new status to mock public figures which did not hand over their money.
Nearly everyone on the platform knew exactly what would happen next. Impersonation became rampant across the platform since the barrier to entry for being "verified" was now the same cost as purchasing a coffee at the Starbucks brand. As a result of this mishap, Twitter had to suspend its verification service and revamp it as a way to save face. Needless to say no one actually respects any of the checkmarks on the website anymore as it has become a parody of itself.
Doxing and Journalism
While the Internet has always afforded the average web user with a sense of anonymity, how one conducts themselves on the Internet can have real world consequences. Many who use the Internet fail to understand how their daily discussions and social media posts can reveal who they are in the physical world.
Doxing is the practice of connecting one’s real world identity to their online one through a variety of methods including social engineering, hacking, and gathering information through their presence online. While it has always been a rather controversial topic, with the rise of swatting as a means of vengeance, doxing has been moved to the forefront for many who use social media.
Twitter, and by extension Elon Musk, has recently come under fire with his decision to ban an account tracking his flights around the world using publicly available information. Criticism has only strengthened against him after making a decision to ban journalists covering the ban or otherwise publicizing the figure behind the account. Twitter has since claimed that the bans are enforcing a newly defined rule regarding doxing.
It’s an interesting development since Elon Musk previously made a commitment to not banning the account under the grounds of free speech. As a free speech absolutist, Elon’s public statements have been proven to not be compatible with the actual decisions he has made with Twitter.
While Twitter has unsuspended some of the journalists caught up in the conversation around the controversial account, others remain suspended due to what seems like personal feelings rather than an enforcement policy. Most of this seems to surround a poll Musk hosted on the platform asking its users whether he should unsuspended the accounts immediately, or after a seven day period.
One of Twitter’s most recent policy decisions which found it in hot water is one that discourages or even bans mentioning alternative platforms on the website. Twitter decided that sharing links to other social media platforms (but only certain ones) will result in either a suspension or the banning of accounts on the platform. The ban also extended to third-party linking services like linktr.ee to prevent people from circumventing the rule through using another URL entirely.
While Musk has done a 180 on this decision due to the measurable backlash they received, it demonstrates an inability to read the room or even conduct basic user research before implementing a change. The new policy has since been removed from the platform’s guidelines and the tweets outlining the change have since been deleted, though they are available on plenty of archive websites.
It’s an anti-competitive decision that falls afoul of the upcoming Digital Markets Act in the European Union which requires gatekeepers to allow such promotion from users. It has also been proven to be vastly unpopular on the platform as many of the banned social media platforms aren’t an alternative to Twitter. In many of these cases, users will use both platforms for different types of content. It also demonstrates a lack of understanding around the nuance of social media by picking and choosing which competitors are allowed and which aren’t.
While it's impossible for me to cover every facet of Twitter at this time, I wanted to highlight a lot of the recent events which I feel have negatively impacted the platform as a whole. It illustrates Musk's inability to think things through or improve things in a meaningful way. Many of the positive changes are ones we had already seen on the horizon prior to his involvement with others being ones that were made, and then retracted based on the overwhelming negative feedback.
It's crystal clear that the majority of users are against a Musk-led Twitter and want nothing more than to have a rational CEO in place. While a new CEO is not likely to lead to an immediate improvement in the platform, it could be an opportunity for someone level-headed to handle the general decision-making. If Musk really wants to turn the platform around, it'll be important to listen to more voices rather than the echo chamber he seems to surround himself with.
However, with the long-term viability of the platform in jeopardy, many are already in the mindset of looking to what lies in the future. Platforms like Mastodon and CoHost are seeing rapid growth as people look to move away from a platform that is growing in hate speech and instability. It'll be interesting to see what happens outside the hellscape that Twitter has become.
I will most likely follow this up with a part 2 in 2023 based on new developments. I have a few topics I want to cover in-depth including the advertising challenges that Twitter is facing and coverage on the different public Spaces that Musk has been a part of. Outside of that, I want to focus on next chapters and the likely scenario for many communities that are looking to move away from the platform.
Many don’t understand the grave impact this is having on creatives. If Twitter folds, there are a number of artists that will be negatively impacted. It can be difficult to establish a brand new following if Twitter itself falls apart. It’ll become important for these creators and communities to start planning for the collapse of the platform as it becomes increasingly likely that Twitter will not survive as-is.