If you were used to a time when Twitter – while far from perfect – was a place where you could reliably digest a wide variety of breaking news, politics, celebrity gossip or personal musings, it’s time to accept a new reality .
Twitter becomes a degraded product.
In the four months since Elon Musk took over the company, the app has run into major issues, like last week when users around the world couldn’t post tweets, send messages, or follow new accounts for hours. While Twitter, like other social media networks, has always had intermittent outages, the app’s unpredictability under Musk isn’t just limited to technical glitches. Musk’s erratic decisions compromise the integrity of Twitter’s core product and alienate large swaths of users.
Musk’s Super Bowl meltdown, as reported by Platformer, is one of the clearest signs of Twitter’s decline so far. Musk, apparently furious that his tweets about the Super Bowl received fewer views than President Biden’s, flew to Twitter headquarters and ordered engineers to change the algorithm underlying Twitter’s flagship product to put his own tweets above those. of everyone else so that they appear at the top of the page. Twitter users’ “For You” page. Musk’s cousin, James Musk — who is now a full-time employee and a reported “fixer type” within the company — reportedly sent an urgent message at 2 a.m. asking all skilled technicians to help, and the company gave 80 engineers to manually tweak the underlying Twitter feature. system to promote Musk’s tweets.
Shortly after the change, many users noticed that their feeds had been bombarded with Musk’s tweets. Musk seemed to recognize the phenomenon, post a meme that features a woman labeled “Elon’s tweets” forcibly feeding a bottle of milk to another woman labeled “Twitter”, and later posting that Twitter was making “modifications” to its algorithm.
The episode shows how Twitter has become less and less reliable. The platform’s core product design is now tailored to the whims of Musk, a leader who seems to put his own image and “absolutist free speech” ideology above business interests.
A few examples: Musk, in the spirit of free speech to let people say almost anything they want on Twitter, reinstated the accounts of thousands of previously suspended users, including neo-Nazi and QAnon accounts. That was one of the driving factors, researchers told the New York Times, behind an increase in hate speech on the platform, including a more than 200 percent increase in anti-black slurs from when Musk took over until December 2022 — which upset many users who were already struggling with harassment on the platform.
On the product front, Musk has accelerated projects that have created chaos on the platform. Musk’s most high-profile product, Twitter Blue, a paid version of the app that allowed anyone to purchase a verification tick badge, had a disastrous initial rollout. Musk – who has long worked with the mainstream press – framed Twitter Blue as a way to take away the special privileges, such as ticks, that “elites” such as journalists had on the platform unless they paid. But ill-conceived changes to Twitter’s verification policy left the platform flooded with spam as newly verified accounts used their checkmarks to convincingly impersonate public figures, including Musk. The release was pulled and delayed twice before finally coming out in December.
Under Musk, Twitter also recently blocked third-party apps that enhanced people’s experience on the app, such as Tweetbot. While Twitter is promising developers a revamped paid version of its API, the way Twitter suddenly cut off access has soured its relationship with third-party programmers whose add-on apps enriched the site.
Ever since Musk laid off or laid off more than half of Twitter’s staff, the people left to clean up the mess have been scarce. That includes teams dedicated to bug fixing, content moderation, and advertiser sourcing.
When Elon Musk first bought Twitter, while many were skeptical of the billionaire, there was also some optimism that Musk could change the company. Investors hoped that Musk, the prolific and successful entrepreneur, could revive a company that was not profitable and was believed not to be living up to its full business potential. Musk’s ideological supporters saw him, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” as someone who could make Twitter less restrictive and open it up to a wider range of expression.
Now we see Musk’s potential to improve Twitter – business and ideological – not being realized.
On the business side, Twitter’s main source of revenue is at risk, as 500 major advertisers have cut spending on the platform since Musk took over, largely due to concerns about Musk’s overall erratic behavior and the increase in what researchers say is an “unprecedented” increase in hate speech on the platform. According to Reuters, Twitter’s top 30 advertisers have reduced their spend on Twitter by an average of 42 percent from the time Musk took over until the end of 2022. Musk’s solution to Twitter’s loss of advertiser dollars is to get more people to pay for Twitter, but that doesn’t seem to work so far. Twitter only has about 180,000 people in the U.S. paying for Twitter subscriptions as of mid-January 2023, or less than 0.2 percent of monthly active users, according to a recent report from the Information.
While Musk claimed in November that Twitter’s user base is bigger than ever, external data contradicts that claim. According to the data intelligence firm CompareWeb, in March 2022 — before Musk took over — Twitter had even more traffic than it does now, and saw Twitter’s year-over-year growth in visitors decline from 4.7 percent in November 2022, when Musk took over , to -2 percent in January 2023.
Ideologically, Musk’s Twitter has repeatedly failed to live up to his free speech standards, starting with Musk suspending comedians like Kathy Griffin (who made fun of him) and banning users from talking about Twitter’s competitors on the platform , such as decentralized social network Mastodon (after a wave of criticism, Musk reversed the policy).
Even some popular figures who supported Musk for his stance on free speech, such as independent journalist Bari Weiss, have withdrawn their support after Musk banned several prominent journalists who criticized him (Musk argued that the journalists doxx him, which they denied) . In recent months, former Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey, who in April endorsed Musk as his successor, saying he is the “only solution” he trusts to take Twitter and “extend the light of consciousness” has also changed his stance and began to openly criticize Musk’s leadership, including all the recent technical problems.
The main group of people who seem to steadfastly support the new Twitter are conservative figures and politicians. After Musk amnestied many suspended accounts of right-wing provocateurs and political leaders, including shock jock Andrew Tate, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and former President Donald Trump, Musk has achieved hero status in right-wing circles, even having Republican-led legislation drafted in his name that would require the Justice Department to release money that would spends on Big Tech companies. Musk has also gained conservative admiration for his work in exposing examples of perceived liberal bias in Twitter’s old guard, most notably with the “Twitter Files,” a series of documents showing how Twitter made decisions about its content policies with input, sometimes from US politicians and government agencies.
Even if Musk’s conservative fans love how he runs Twitter, if the app is glitchy and more users abandon the platform altogether, it won’t be of much use to them. Nor will it be for Musk, who needs a healthy money-making app to pay back some $13 billion he borrowed from creditors to buy Twitter.