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IF Insights: How does Twitter fare under Elon Musk?

IFM_Twitter CEO Elon Musk
Immediately after taking over Twitter, Elon Musk fired the then-Twitter leadership, including CEO Parag Agarwal, along with 50% of the employees

Elon Musk put out his first tweet in June 2010. By April 2022, he had a whopping 80 million followers. His tweets have become so influential that they have been known to move stock markets, spark conversations and even influence public policy.

The Tesla CEO expressed a desire to take over Twitter for the first time through a tweet in 2017.

Five years later, in March 2022, he championed the idea of free speech absolutism and openly criticised Twitter. Later, a security filing showed that Elon Musk was Twitter Inc.’s biggest shareholder, with a stake of 9%, and he was asked to join the board of directors. He declined it later. Soon after, he made a deal to buy the micro-blogging platform for USD 54.20 per share or USD 43 billion. A deal Twitter was happy about.

The billionaire later backed out of the agreement, stating that more than 5% of all Twitter users were bots. Twitter took the Tesla CEO to court, and Elon Musk eventually bought it for the original price, staking Tesla shares.

Immediately after taking over the social media platform, Elon Musk fired the then-Twitter leadership, including CEO Parag Agarwal, along with 50% of the employees. His policy changes have been considered erratic so far (Twitter Blue has been the biggest example of that). While he dubbed himself the “chief twit” and tweeted, “The bird is free,” the reality is that the company is in the doldrums. Its financial health has gone downhill and the staff firings have taken a toll on Twitter’s operational capabilities, with the frequent news of the micro-blogging platform crashing occupying the headlines.

Let’s Talk About The Significant Changes

The app has been significantly plagued with bugs since Elon Musk’s takeover. Not only has the micro-blogging platform been facing glitches (lasting for hours), but Tweetdeck, a significant user favourite social media dashboard for Twitter, also looked haywire. Users are unable to send messages, make tweets, or follow new accounts.

The integrity of Twitter’s primary product is compromised by Elon Musk’s irrational moves, alienating a sizable portion of users. He has reportedly reinstated the accounts of thousands of previously suspended users, including neo-Nazi and QAnon accounts, ‘in the spirit of free speech’.

Researchers have informed the New York Times about the renewed dominance of hate speeches on the micro-blogging platform, including a more than 200% jump in racial slurs from Elon Musk’s takeover until December 2022.

In terms of products, the Twitter CEO has hurried through initiatives that have wreaked havoc on the platform.

Twitter Blue, Elon Musk’s most well-known product and a premium service that allowed users to purchase a verification badge, needed a better rollout at first.

Elon Musk, who has a history of hatred against the mainstream media, presented Twitter Blue as a method to deny “elites” like journalists and activists certain advantages on the site, like checkmarks, unless they paid up.

The poorly planned modifications to Twitter’s verification rules ultimately resulted in a spammer invasion as freshly verified accounts exploited their checkmarks to pass off fake versions of well-known individuals, including Elon Musk.

Before ultimately debuting in December 2022, the release of ‘Twitter Blue’ was postponed twice. Tweetbot and other third-party applications that enhanced users’ experiences on the platform were suddenly prohibited by Twitter.

Even though Twitter has promised developers a revised, premium version of its API, its abruptly blocked access has damaged its reputation with outside developers, whose add-on applications have improved the site.

More than half of Twitter’s workforce has been let go by Elon Musk, leaving a shortage of staff to deal with the fallout. This includes groups responsible for bug fixes, content control, and wooing sponsors.

On the commercial front, Elon Musk’s leadership has put Twitter’s primary source of income in jeopardy as 500 high-profile advertisers have suspended their campaigns since the billionaire took over the leadership role, mainly due to worries about his general unpredictability and the rise in what researchers call an “unprecedented” rise in hate speech on the platform.

According to Reuters, between the time Elon Musk took over and the end of 2022, Twitter’s top 30 advertisers reduced their expenditure by an average of 42%.

Around 180,000 US users, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users, are paying for Twitter subscriptions as of mid-January 2023, according to a recent Information report.

While Elon Musk asserted in November that Twitter’s user base was at an all-time high, independent evidence refutes that assertion.

According to the data analytics company SimilarWeb, Twitter enjoyed a rise in traffic before Elon Musk seized control in March 2022. The number of visitors to the site decreased year over year from 4.7% in November 2022 to -2% in January 2023.

Is The Bird Free?

On an ideological level, Elon Musk’s Twitter has repeatedly fallen short of upholding its commitment to free speech, starting with the CEO suspending accounts of comedians like Kathy Griffin (who made fun of him) and forbidding users from discussing Twitter’s rivals, such as the decentralised social network Mastodon, on the platform (after a flurry of criticism, Elon Musk reversed the policy).

Even some well-known individuals who backed Elon Musk’s free speech stance, like independent journalist Bari Weiss, have changed their minds because Elon Musk banned numerous prominent journalists who had opposed him.

In April 2022, former Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey endorsed Elon Musk as his replacement and declared that Elon Musk is the “singular solution” he believes can run Twitter and “extend the light of consciousness.” However, in recent months, Jack Dorsey has changed his mind and begun to openly criticise Elon Musk’s leadership, including all the current technical issues.

Conservative public personalities and politicians are the primary demographic that appears to embrace the new Twitter staunchly.

Elon Musk has become a hero in right-wing circles after he restored many suspended accounts of right-wing political figures and provocateurs, including shock jock Andrew Tate, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and former United States President Donald Trump.

He has even had Republican-led legislation drafted in his honour that would require the Department of Justice to reveal the amount of money it spends on big tech companies.

In addition, Elon Musk has won the admiration of conservatives for his efforts to expose instances of purported liberal bias in Twitter’s old guard, most notably with the release of the “Twitter Files,” a collection of documents that reveal how Twitter made decisions about its content policies with input from US politicians and government organisations.

Even if Elon Musk’s conservative supporters adore how he manages Twitter, they won’t be much use if the app is buggy and people stop using it completely.

Elon Musk, who needs a successful, profitable app to recoup the USD 13 billion he borrowed from creditors to purchase Twitter, won’t either.

The billionaire recently stated his intention to hire a new CEO by 2023-end. Even if the plan gets executed, the new leadership will have a mountain to climb, if we take Twitter’s rising debt and app glitches alone into consideration.

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