Twitter Reborn: A Look Back on 8 Months of Musk
BY BRADLEY BARNES
A few months ago I wrote an article titled ‘The end of Twitter?’ where I gave my thoughts on Musk’s takeover of the company and what this meant for its future. I stated that whilst I was quite sympathetic to the new CEO’s stance on free speech, I was dubious of his overall strategy for the company (assuming he even had one in the first place) and unsure of his capability to effectively run the platform considering his impulsive approach to decision making. Ultimately, I concluded that unless Musk got his act together there was a good chance Twitter wouldn’t survive. 8 months on, and with a new CEO replacing Musk, it seems Twitter has survived the storm but has come out a different bird. Although the fundamentals of the platform remain intact, it has undeniably changed, and not necessarily for the better. Whilst not all of Musk’s reforms are bad, the past over half a year on the platform still feels like a strange, disconcerting social media experiment rather than a stable platform. This feeling of turbulence is not aided by Musk’s indecisiveness on issues such as free speech, and the worrying extent to which he seems to be pandering to conservatives in both his rhetoric and policy. These issues have left a gap in the market for a genuine Twitter alternative; an opportunity Meta has decisively leapt on by launching Threads. As I mentioned earlier, Musk has made some changes to the platform which I would argue have had a positive impact. My favourite of these is community notes, which was not actually created under Musk, but was greatly expanded during his tenure as CEO. This feature essentially democratises content regulation, allowing community notes contributors to propose additional context to factually inaccurate Tweets which will then, if they receive enough votes, be displayed on the Tweet. Although this feature is not perfect and there is a risk of the context also being biased towards a certain viewpoint, I have yet to find a community note which is factually inaccurate; instead, they tend to provide an often-necessary counterweight to the narrative in the original Tweet, giving users a more thorough picture on a given issue. I much prefer this system to content regulation that is based on the whims of a social media company or an algorithm. Another feature I approve of is adding Tweet view counts, as it gives users an insight into previously hidden engagement. This being said, there are some other changes which I feel have greatly harmed user experience. Although Musk’s new verification system has helped boost some smaller accounts trying to build a base on the platform, it has created far more problems than it has solved. When the changes to the blue tick system were at last successfully implemented, many verified left-leaning users opposed to Musk refused to support the scheme, and many right leaning users subscribed to Twitter Blue. The result of this has been a noticeable and disproportionate amplification of conservative voices on the platform, which is particularly observable in replies where you often must scroll though pages of conservative takes before you reach a tweet which offers any alternative perspective. One side of the aisle having a loudspeaker is obviously a massive problem and goes against the principle of free and open debate which should govern the platform, and which Musk himself claimed to champion. Quite asides from the issues with platform policy, Musk’s own views and his output on social media has also been quite problematic. Often, the former Twitter CEO will flip flop between posing as a moderate and blatantly endorsing conservative viewpoints, but in recent years he has tended towards doing the latter. To give an example, in 2018 to celebrate Pride month, Musk tweeted “Don’t buy our car if that’s a problem. People should be free to live their lives where their heart takes them”. As late as 2022, Musk, despite his clear shift to the right, was boasting about Tesla’s perfect score on the CEI (Corporate Equality Index) and the company was still producing LGBT themed products. In 2023 however, Musk decided to celebrate Pride month by liking blatantly transphobic Tweets and promoting the transphobic documentary ‘What is a woman’ by conservative media outlet the Daily Wire. Occasionally Musk has attempted to once again display himself as a neutral arbiter: in fact he recently encouraged left wing commentators to put content up on his platform. But these attempts come across as insincere amidst blatant endorsements of the far right and the deliberate promotion of conservative viewpoints on his platform. Moreover, from a business standpoint, Twitter still appears to be struggling somewhat. Advertisers have continued to leave the platform, with US ad sales down 59% from the previous year in April and the Twitter Blue subscription service having underperformed. Despite this, some aspects of Musk’s business strategy have been copied by other social media companies. Meta and Reddit have both cut down their workforces, and Meta have even copied the paid check mark model by introducing ‘Meta verified’. But even if they are copying his tactics, Musk’s competition clearly believes Twitter is in a weak place. If this wasn’t the case, Meta wouldn’t have just boldly launched their Twitter alternative ‘Threads’, an app which promises to retain everything users love about Twitter without the baggage of its glaring flaws and incompetent CEO.
It seems over 6 months on that Musk’s impact has been largely negative, yet it is difficult to dismiss his tenure as a total failure considering he has improved the platform in some areas and has been copied in certain aspects of his strategy by his competitors. This being said, it remains unlikely that Twitter will ever be able to truly flourish under such turbulent, indecisive and biased leadership, and with Threads now posing a genuine challenge to the platform Twitter’s days could well be numbered.