February 22, 2024

Precisely one 12 months has handed since Elon Musk, contemporary off a months-long authorized battle that pressured him to purchase the corporate, strolled into Twitter headquarters carrying a sink.

On the time, we weren’t completely positive what to anticipate. However there have been no scarcity of predictions — together with from us at Engadget — about simply how messy and chaotic Twitter would possibly grow to be beneath Musk’s management. I’ve spent the final week revisiting lots of these tales, and I’ve been struck by how, for a famously erratic CEO, simply how predictable many elements of his takeover have been.

Earlier than the acquisition closed, Musk spent months speaking, tweeting and texting about his plans for the platform. Lots of these early statements, like guarantees to loosen up moderation guidelines and to create an edit button, have truly occurred.

However as is so typically the case with Musk, even probably the most predictable of his choices have performed out in surprising methods.

Amnesty for Donald Trump and different banned accounts

Of all of Musk’s plans for Twitter, one which drew probably the most headlines was his intention to revive Donald Trump’s account. (He went so far as calling the unique ban a “morally unhealthy resolution.”) Whereas Musk’s biographer claims he had some second ideas concerning the matter, he opted to reinstate the previous president following the results of a ballot from his Twitter account.

What many might not have totally anticipated was simply what number of former offenders Musk was prepared to permit again on the platform. Regardless of his preliminary promise that Twitter “can’t grow to be a free-for-all hellscape,” Musk determined to supply “normal amnesty” to greater than 12,000 previously-banned accounts, together with plenty of neo-Nazis.

The gradual demise of content material moderation (and Twitter’s advert enterprise)

It was no secret that Musk needed to loosen Twitter’s content material moderation guidelines. Earlier than his takeover, he steered that he was in favor of permitting all speech that was authorized. Whereas many pundits predicted advertisers could possibly be cautious of Musk’s extra permissive method, it’s arduous to overstate simply how dire the corporate’s advert enterprise has grow to be during the last 12 months.

A majority of main advertisers have stopped shopping for advertisements on the platform, regardless of CEO Linda Yaccarino’s rosier (and deceptive) ideas in any other case. Musk himself has admitted advert income has dropped a minimum of 50 p.c. And The Wall Avenue Journal reported this week that the banks that financed Musk’s Twitter deal predict to lose a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of {dollars} because it’s grow to be almost unattainable for them to dump the debt.

Extra “transparency”

One space that gave even some Musk critics a bit little bit of optimism was his insistence, previous to the acquisition, that he would convey a brand new stage of transparency to the platform. He vowed to open-source the corporate’s suggestion algorithm, and pull again the curtain on the dreaded “shadowban.”

In some respects, he’s adopted by way of. Code for the corporate’s essential suggestion algorithm is on Github. X has additionally previewed alerts that may notify customers when their accounts have been restricted from search and different areas of the service.

However these efforts may additionally be extra shallow than what some had hoped for. Publishing “the algorithm” didn’t truly reveal a lot concerning the internal workings of the platform, in response to those that have studied it. Customers nonetheless have little or no perception into how posts are prioritized or how accounts not belonging to Elon Musk can increase their attain.

On the similar time, Musk has taken plenty of steps which have dramatically lowered outsiders’ skill to grasp how info spreads on X. Musk dismantled the corporate’s beforehand open and accessible APIs in favor of instruments that now price tens of hundreds of {dollars} a month for far more restricted insights. Paywalling has had a devastating affect on researchers, the overwhelming majority of whom can now not afford to entry the restricted information that’s accessible through X’s API.

“However wait,” I can already hear just a few folks screaming from the feedback, “wHaT aBoUt ThE tWiTteR fiLeS? Absolutely, that is transparency?”

Whereas Musk’s resolution to selectively leak the messages of former staff was unprecedented and doubtlessly unlawful, the reality is that the so-called “Twitter Recordsdata” didn’t truly reveal all that a lot about how Twitter operated. And the corporate’s personal attorneys have refuted, in court docket, that the main points inside them are proof of any sort of authorities censorship or overreach.

Furthermore, the disclosures themselves weren’t all that… clear. Partial paperwork have been solely offered to a few writers — handpicked by Musk — who solely printed snippets of Slack messages, emails and screenshots from Twitter’s inner instruments. The underlying paperwork have nonetheless not been launched of their entirety, or offered to different media retailers for dissemination. Even Jack Dorsey stated it might have been higher, and extra clear, to launch every thing “Wikileaks model” for all to see, quite than selectively tweeting out bits and items.

X and the “every thing app”

Shortly earlier than his takeover, Musk tweeted that “shopping for Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the every thing app.” On the time, many individuals assumed Musk was speaking about emulating WeChat, which in China is used for nearly all sides of every day life from procuring to messaging to banking.

Nevertheless, one 12 months later, it’s nonetheless not completely clear what he means or how the service previously often known as Twitter will rework itself into one thing resembling an “every thing app.” There are some indicators of change: He and CEO Linda Yaccarino have stated they wish to add banking and different monetary companies to X. The platform has additionally launched new options like video calling and is planning on including stay procuring.

The WeChat comparability breaks down, nevertheless, when you think about that, whereas WeChat is certainly probably the most dominant app in China, Twitter is, at finest, the sixth-most in style social media app within the US. And the app’s utilization has been sharply declining for the final 12 months. There could also be room to increase the forms of options supplied on X, however it’s not clear they’ll lead to a major enhance in recognition or engagement.

The existential threats to Twitter

Should you had advised me a 12 months in the past that Musk’s choices could be so unpopular it might result in a mass exodus from the platform, I wouldn’t have been shocked. Threatening to rage-quit Twitter over even probably the most minor of modifications is a time honored custom.

However in the event you had advised me that in lower than a 12 months, there could be a surge in upstart options which can be beginning to really feel like viable challengers, I’d have been much less credulous. And in the event you had advised me that, a 12 months later, the strongest-looking challenger was a fediverse-compatible platform created by Meta, I undoubtedly wouldn’t have believed it.

However, with a 12 months of hindsight, it strikes me that maybe probably the most important a part of Musk’s legacy up to now just isn’t what he’s accomplished to the service beforehand often known as Twitter, however the wave of latest platforms impressed by his actions.

Bluesky, beforehand a backwater Twitter offshoot, has surged to one million customers, regardless of nonetheless being an invitation-only community. Mastodon and the fediverse, each of which predate Musk’s takeover, are extra in style than ever. And Meta, which has a beforehand dismal observe report at constructing its personal apps (not known as Fb) that folks like, has managed to make Threads right into a viable (if flawed) different.

None of those are good replacements for what previous Twitter was, at its finest. And so they might not be capable to maintain their momentum for years to come back, however Musk’s chaotic takeover of Twitter has ushered in what many imagine to be a brand new period of social media. It feels more and more potential that we might look again on the finish of Twitter and the rise of X as a boon for a greater model of social media.


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