Twitter takeover: 1 year later X fights misinformation, ads and declining usage


A year ago, billionaire and new owner Elon Musk walked into Twitter's San Francisco headquarters wearing a white bathroom sink and a smile, fired its CEO and other top executives, and began transforming the social media platform into what is now known as X.

X looks and feels a bit like Twitter, but the more time you spend with it, the more clear it becomes that it's just an approximation. Musk tore down the core features of Twitter, Twitter — its name and blue bird logo, its verification system, its trust and security advisory group. Not to mention content moderation and hate speech enforcement.

It has also fired, laid off, or lost much of its workforce—the engineers who keep the site running, the moderators who keep it from being overloaded with hate, the enforcers responsible for making the rules and enforcing them.

The result, longtime Twitter watchers said, was the end of the platform's role as an imperfect but useful place to find out what's going on in the world. What X will become, and whether Musk can achieve his ambition to turn it into an “everything app” that everyone uses, remains as uncertain as it was a year ago.

“Musk has failed to make any significant improvements to the platform and is no closer to his vision of an ‘everything app' than he was a year ago,” Insider Intelligence analyst Jasmine Enberg said. “Instead, X drove away users, advertisers, and has now lost its primary value proposition in the social media world: being the central hub of news.”

As one of the platform's most popular and prolific users even before the company's acquisition, Musk has had a unique experience on Twitter that is markedly different from regular users. But many of the changes he introduced to X are based on his own impressions of the site — in fact, he polled his millions of followers for advice on how to run it (they said he should quit).

“Musk's attitude to the platform as a technology company that he could transform, and his vision, rather than a social network built on people and ad dollars, was the single biggest reason for Twitter's demise,” Enberg said.

The blue signs that once indicated that the person or institution behind the account was who they said they were — a celebrity, an athlete, a journalist from a global or local publication, a nonprofit agency — now just show that someone is paying $8 a month. A subscription service that boosts their posts to unverified users. These very payment accounts have been found to spread misinformation on the platform, which is often reinforced by its algorithms.

On Thursday, for example, a new report from the left-leaning nonprofit Media Matters found that multiple blue-checked X accounts with tens of thousands of followers claimed the mass shooting in Maine was a “false flag” orchestrated by the government. The researchers also found such accounts spreading misinformation and propaganda about the Israel-Hamas war – so much so that the European Commission issued a formal, legally binding information request to X about hate speech, disinformation and violent terrorist content. the war

Ian Bremer, a prominent foreign policy expert, posted on X this month that the level of disinformation “algorithmically promoted” about the Israel-Hamas war on the platform was “unlike anything I've ever seen in my career as a politician.” scientist”.

It's not just the identity of the platform that is on shaky ground. Twitter was already struggling financially when Musk acquired it for $44 billion in a deal that closed on October 27, 2022, and the situation is even more precarious today. Musk took the company private, so its books are no longer public — but in July, Tesla's CEO said the company has lost about half of its advertising revenue and continues to carry a heavy debt load.

“We're still cash flow negative,” he posted on the site on July 14, due to “a 50% drop in advertising revenue, plus heavy debt.”

“We need to get to positive cash flow before we have the luxury of anything else,” he said.

In May, Musk hired Linda Iaccarino, a former NBC executive with deep ties to the ad industry, to woo top brands, but that effort has had slow results. While some advertisers are back on X, they're not spending as much as in the past — despite its entry into the online ad market, which boosted recent quarterly earnings for Facebook parent Meta and Google parent Co. for Alphabet. .

Insider Intelligence estimates X will bring in $1.89 billion in ad revenue this year, down 54% from 2022. The last time its ad revenue came close to that level was in 2015, when it was $1.99 billion. In 2022, it was $4.12 billion.

External research has also shown that people use X less often.

According to research firm Similarweb, global web traffic to was down 14% year-over-year, while traffic to the portal for advertisers was down 16.5%. Mobile performed no better, falling 17.8% year-over-year on a combined monthly active user basis for Apple's iOS and Android.

“Even though Twitter's cultural relevance was already starting to wane,” Enberg said before Musk took over, “it's like the platform doesn't exist anymore.

“What's really fascinating is that almost all of the wounds are self-inflicted. Usually when a social platform starts to lose relevance, there's at least some external factor at play, but this isn't the case.”