What is Elon Musk doing with Twitter? Elon Musk’s move over the weekend to rebrand Twitter and replace its iconic bird logo with an X is just the latest step in his effort to make over the billionaire’s longtime favorite platform in his image.
When Musk bought Twitter late last year, he laid out a vision for an “everything” app called X, where users could communicate, shop, consume entertainment and more. Last June — prior to his takeover — Musk told Twitter employees that the platform should be more like China’s WeChat, where he said users “basically live on” the app because “it’s so usable and helpful to daily life.”
The vision for the rebrand may go all the way back to Musk’s creation of the original X.com in 1999, which Musk hoped would be an all-in-one financial platform and which eventually became PayPal.
What is Elon Musk doing with Twitter?
Welcome to Elon Musk’s Twitter (now X), where the rules are made up and the check marks don’t matter.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO announced his bid to buy Twitter in April 2022, zealously driven to rid the platform of spam bots and protect free speech; now, it’s the one-year anniversary since he made his dramatic entrance to the company in October 2022, and the platform has changed so much that even its name is different.
“This is just my strong, intuitive sense that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization,” Musk said at a TED conference on the day he made his offer. “I don’t care about the economics at all.”
Even for one of the richest men in the world, $44 billion is a lot of money to cough up to buy a middling social platform. Despite his fervent declarations about expanding “the scope and scale of consciousness” through public discourse, the billionaire got cold feet. A month later in May, he tried to kill the deal, claiming that Twitter had more bots than its public filings let on. After a truly chaotic legal discovery process, which even included some embarrassing texts, Musk was forced to seal the deal. By October, the platform was his.
Since Musk bought Twitter and took the company private, the news around the microblogging platform has been a whirlwind, rife with verification chaos, API access shakeups, ban reversals, staggering layoffs, and most notably, rebranding to X.
Musk also transitioned from his role as Twitter/X CEO to serving as its executive chair and CTO. It was announced on May 12 that Linda Yaccarino will step in as the next X CEO. Yaccarino left her role as chairman of Global Advertising & Partnerships at NBCU.
As X enters year two of Musk’s ownership, here’s a comprehensive timeline of everything that’s happened since Elon let that sink in.
Twitter’s content moderation
Shortly after completing his acquisition of Twitter in October 2022, Musk said he would establish a “content moderation council” to advise him on controversial decisions, such as whether to uphold former President Donald Trump’s suspension from the platform. (Musk said he would not reinstate the former president without consulting this council.)
But the council was never established and in November Musk unilaterally revoked Trump’s suspension from the platform. He fired many members of Twitter’s platform safety team just days before the U.S. midterm elections. Under Musk, Twitter has also removed bans on dozens of accounts including Neo-Nazis, and disbanded the platform’s already-existing Trust and Safety Council, which was populated by civil society groups.
Suspension of ElonJet
On Nov. 7, 2022, Musk tweeted that he would not ban an account that monitored the movements of his Gulfstream G700 private jet in real time. The account would often post tweets revealing short flights—the 40 miles from San Jose to San Francisco, for example—that hurt the electric vehicle billionaire’s environmentally-friendly image. “
My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk,” Musk tweeted on Nov. 7. In December, Musk banned the account, claiming it had violated Twitter’s doxxing policy.
Support for free speech
Before his acquisition of Twitter, Musk said he would like to allow all legal speech to remain on the platform. “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” he tweeted in April. By December, he had suspended at least nine prominent journalists from the platform, ostensibly for retweeting or publicizing ElonJet’s tweets about the location of his private jet.
The journalists’ accounts were later reinstated. At around the same time, the Twitter account of rival social network Mastodon was suspended from the platform, and links to Mastodon servers were prevented from being posted on Twitter. The platform later reversed course on those decisions.
U-turning on blue checks
Musk’s vision for Twitter Blue has taken many twists and turns. He announced in March that only accounts that subscribe to Twitter Blue would appear in Twitter’s main timeline, known as the For You page. “[This] is the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over,” Musk wrote. Days later he backtracked, saying he “forgot to mention” non-paying users’ tweets would appear as well.
On April 20, the blue checkmarks of “legacy” verified accounts predating Musk’s tenure at Twitter disappeared, but then began reappearing on the accounts of several celebrities who had publicly stated they would never pay for the service, including LeBron James and William Shatner. Musk then tweeted that he was paying for several celebrities’ blue checkmarks personally, prompting some to observe that he could be exposed to legal risk for suggesting that celebrities were endorsing a paid service when in fact they were not.
Backpedaling on media labeling
Musk received pushback from media organizations including NPR, PBS and the BBC after affixing “state-funded media” labels to their accounts without warning. The organizations said that the labels were misleading, as they suggested a lack of editorial independence from government and implied full reliance on government funds despite their commercial activities.
NPR said it was leaving the platform due to the labeling. Musk later U-turned, removing the labels. In the process, he also removed similar labels affixed to Russian state propaganda outfit RT, and China Daily, which is affiliated to the Chinese Communist Party.
Around the same time, it appears, Twitter also removed longstanding limits on the virality of posts from those accounts, leading to spikes in engagement, according to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
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