Twitter's mayhem year
Exactly a year ago, Elon Musk became Twitter’s owner. He paid USD 44 billion for the entire company and promised to turn the social network into a kind of “super app”, or — as he says — an “everything app”.
A year is a short time, I agree, but at this point one was to expect at least signs that a turnaround is underway or at least feasible. The signs exist, but in the opposite direction.
In a year under Musk’s control, Twitter deteriorated, became unrecognizable. Not only by the name change, to the meaningless, stupid “X“. We saw in real time, day after day, the merciless dismantling of a beloved company, of much of what was built in almost two decades.
Musk made his fortune with startups at the turn of the millennium and later became the richest person in the world with the surge of Tesla stock, an automaker he co-founded, manages and that spearheaded the electrification of cars, the new self-deception of the automobile industry in the fight against the climate emergency.
Musk’s business (he is also CEO of SpaceX and owns The Boring Company), until then, kind of shielded him from the general public. It leaked only the image of the entrepreneurial genius making bold business decisions, sometimes merciless, but that resulted in innovative, futuristic and, most importantly, profitable solutions.
Let’s be fair: just someone very crazy, naive or genius (or all three things at the same time) to make simultaneous bets on electric cars and private space exploration in the early 2000s, and win both.
But Twitter is a different business. The quick posts for a huge audience, with the power to promptly answer, amplify and, sometimes, massacre the messenger, expose the soul of those who let themselves be consumed by this dynamic. It’s an addiction. Twitter is digital cocaine; Musk is a Twitter addict.
This comes from before the acquisition. Some of the biggest controversies in which he got himself into happened in the form of irresponsible posts on Twitter.
Like when he called (without proof) a pedophile a diver involved in the rescue of boys trapped in a cave in Thailand, or announced that he had money to take Tesla private (he did not have).
Musk’s rude pragmatism may work to build cars and launch rockets into the stratosphere, but it does not serve for speech. And Twitter, before being a technology company, is a company that promotes relationships between people. Communication.
Were there bad things on the old Twitter? Absolutely. Twitter was and is somewhat successful despite the direction of the company. It’s always been like that, it still is. But, as they say, nothing is so bad that it can’t get worse.
Listing the disasters of Musk management is unfeasible — this article would become a book. Below, I picked up only two of the most notorious for illustrative purposes.
The blue verification badge/checkmark was emblematic of the problems of the old Twitter: confusing, uncertain, but to some extent functional. At the very least, it served to distinguish people of high visibility.
Musk turned the blue check into a cheap product. Anyone can have it, just pay USD 8/month. By becoming a product and incorporating a kind of “turbo” into Twitter’s algorithm, the meaning of the badge was lost. When it became a source of revenue based on viralization, it became a weapon.
Nowadays, many pay for the badge to amplify angry speeches and misinformation. A recent survey by NewsGuard, for instance, found that 74% of viral misinformation posts related to the Israel/Hamas war were published by verified profiles.
It’s funny that one of the newest benefits of the paid Twitter subscription is to hide the verification badge. In a year, it went from a proud, desirable perk to a toxic one.
The other disaster was that of advertising, which before Musk was bringing ~US$ 5 billion a year to Twitter. A lot? Little? Everything is relative, but it was good money that paid the bills.
The exodus from the advertising market, which is sensitive to controversy, was justified. Musk unbanned extremists and Nazis banned from Twitter by old the old Twitter, people who until then only found space on the fringes of digital society.
No serious company wants to take the risk of seeing its brand next to this type of content.
With all its flaws, or perhaps because of them, the old Twitter was a kind of target of the most strident elites and politicians, which lives by fighting with windmills.
Musk is just another one of those noisy, provocative extremists. What sets him apart from the others is that he has a lot of money.
The new Twitter, or X, is the full realization of the crazy ideas of delusional, resentful, and powerful people, a reactionary dystopia with no room for nuances, where money trumps everything — except Musk himself.