It’s been over a year since Elon Musk purchased Twitter and turned the social media world upside down. Now renamed X, Twitter under Musk has seen some pretty radical changes. Musk cleaned house, so to speak, laying off dozens of long-time Twitter employees, and reversed many bans on Twitter accounts previously sanctioned for disinformation. He also removed prior verification of account procedures that instilled a sense of authenticity of tweets. All of these changes have fueled misinformation on the platform along with significant increases in hate and racist tweets. Needless to say, that Musk’s first year at X has been an eventful one. And based on research studies investigating the changes, most have resulted in less-than-ideal outcomes.
Despite what appears to be undesirable effects, Twitter remains the third most popular social media platform. Certainly, Twitter under Musk has seen a significant decline in user visits and ad revenue dollars. But visitors to the platform continue to be substantial, increased in part due to a rise in false accounts. This is raising serious concerns by a variety of watchdog and public advocacy groups. Report after report now shows that Musk’s first year at X has been anything but a success. Many are realizing that Twitter of old is no longer available, and the new X can no longer be trusted. Of course, not everyone agrees with such a statement, including Musk himself.
A Financial Report Card for Twitter
From the beginning, there was notable controversy surrounding how Twitter under Musk would fare. Some believed that Musk would once again use his Midas touch as he has done with his other successes. But thus far, Musk’s first year at X has been far from that. In September of this year, X had roughly 5.9 billion visitors, which reflects a 14% drop when compared to September of last year. At the same time, advertisers are investing less on the platform as of late. Over the summer, ad revenues reportedly fell by 50%. While Musk blamed negative publicity, it’s highly unlikely this would account for such a drop. It’s much more likely that changes at X itself is driving these changes.
While these figures are far from attractive from a growth perspective, Twitter/X remains among the most popular platforms. Facebook has over 16 billion monthly while Instagram enjoys over 6 billion. This places X in third place and well above TikTok. At the same time, potential rivals such as Mastodon, Blue Sky, and Threads have yet to gain traction. Each of these similar social media sites have far fewer monthly visitors than Twitter. Thus, while Musk’s first year at X hasn’t been a windfall, Twitter remains viable. Of course, if Twitter continues to lose ad revenues and visitors, sustainability becomes a bigger concern.
“[Twitter today is] lacking clear policies that address climate misinformation, having no substantive public transparency mechanisms, and offering no evidence of effective policy enforcement.” – Climate Action Against Disinformation report
A Safe Haven for Disinformation
While the finances could be better, it’s not the economics that’s creating the most degree of concern. Instead, it’s the rise in misinformation and disinformation on X. Several reports examining tweets during Musk’s first year at X note a dramatic increase in falsehoods. For example, Media Matters saw a significant increase in misinformation about COVID after Musk took over. In fact, they stated about 90% of the increased tweets were from groups who opposed vaccines. Likewise, Climate Action Against Disinformation gave Twitter a score of 1/21 regarding accurate climate change tweets. This group represents 50 different climate change advocacy organizations.
The main reason for these shifts relates to changes made during Musk’s first year at X. Within the first few months, he dismantled the safety and trust advisor council at Twitter. He then allowed Twitter users to receive “blue check” verifications by paying an $8 monthly subscription fee. And he eliminated verification labels that was previously awarded to state and government entities. These measures specifically invited Twitter users to post falsehoods covering a range of topics with minimal oversight. And new algorithms of promoted many of these posts without discernment. Given this, it’s not surprising these watchdog groups are finding tremendous increases in disinformation.
“With disinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict flourishing so dramatically on X, it feels that it crossed a line for a lot of people where they can see — beyond just the branding change — that the old Twitter is truly gone.” – Tim Chambers, Dewey Square Group
A Blind Eye to Racist Speech and Propaganda
Part of the issue with the rapid rise in disinformation on X relates to current world events. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been distorted as it pertains to information regarding its progress. Part of the reason for this relates to a significant increase in Twitter accounts that are pro-Kremlin. According to Reset, a non-profit research group, Musk’s first year at X has seen a 36% increase in these users. More recently, the Israeli-Hamas conflict has also stimulated false information. This includes a marked rise in anti-Semitic posts and racists comments reporting on the conflict. According to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, anti-Semitic posts on Twitter have doubled since Musk took over. Here again, little is being done to police or even dissuade such tweets.
Based on this, it appears X has removed all the safeguards and invited true freedom of expression. The problem is that millions previously relied on Twitter for accurate insights about current happenings. Accuracy is now highly questionable on the site, and divisive content has risen dramatically. What does Musk have to say about it? Unapologetically, he accuses media of reporting false statistics about his company. He states that no entity has yet to prove that true disinformation on X exists. Of course, these comments are in direct contradiction with dozens of reputable research organizations that say otherwise. Based on what we’ve seen with Musk’s first year at X, The Twitter of old no longer exists. And the future of X looks to be a scary one if it indeed survives.