Whatever Elon Musk's ultimate vision for the platform he and almost no one else calls X may be, it is still slow to take shape, and one year into his tenure at the company, the results of his leadership aren't great.
When Elon Musk bought Twitter a year ago, he said he wanted to create what he called a “common digital town square.”
“That said,” he wrote, “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape.”
A year later, according to study after study, Mr. Musk’s platform has become exactly that.
Musk has been pushing back for months on journalists and advocates who try to suggest that Twitter, now called X, is rife with hate speech — even going so far as to blame the Anti-Defamation League for an exodus of advertisers and threatening to sue the League for defamation. And, according to Musk, while he has preserved "free speech" on the platform, his engineering tweaks have led to hateful posts reaching fewer eyeballs, or something.
That has been cold comfort to advertisers, and as the Associated Press reports today, citing an Insider Intelligence estimate, X is expected to bring in $1.89 in ad revenue this year, a 54% drop from 2022, when the company took in $4.12 billion – but Musk no longer has to report these numbers after taking the company private.
Actually traffic on Twitter, as tracked by the research firm Similarweb, is allegedly down 14% globally, and down slightly more on mobile.
Musk tweeted — and, by the way, we still don't have a replacement verb for that now that it's not Twitter — in July confirming the company's "negative cash flow" and the 50% drop in ad revenue. "Need to reach positive cash flow before we have the luxury of anything else," he wrote. But when it comes to users and traffic, the company has continued to boast about its successes.
The hiring of Linda Yaccarino as CEO, which came in June, may not have borne much fruit yet, ad-sales-wise, but the AP notes that "While some advertisers have returned to X, they are not spending as much as they did in the past - despite a rebound in the online advertising market that boosted the most recent quarterly profits for Facebook parent company, Meta, and Google parent company, Alphabet."
And misinformation remains a huge problem — and it's something Musk thinks users should sort out for themselves, relying on crowd-sourced fact-checking and their wits rather than a proper Trust and Safety team.
A post from the company's Community Notes group last week boasted "Collectively, notes across the platform are now being seen tens of millions of times per day, generating north of 85 million impressions in the last week."
But one of the 25 people contributing to the Community Notes program spoke to WIRED and said the system is "is prone to manipulation, and it is far too slow and cumbersome. It serves no purpose as far as I can see. I think it's probably making the disinformation worse, to be honest."
As a for instance, a report today from Media Matters, cited by the AP, "found that numerous blue-checked X accounts with tens of thousands of followers claimed that the mass shooting in Maine was a 'false flag,' planned by the government."
And misinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict has also reportedly been running rampant, something that prompted the European Union's digital regular to write to Musk and threaten fines if the misinformation problem isn't addressed. Musk basically responded saying "show me the content," and Yaccarino then formally responded vaguely, saying that the company had "taken action to remove or label tens of thousands of pieces of content."
"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,” says Tim Chambers of Dewey Square Group, a public affairs company that tracks social media, speaking to the New York Times. "And the new X is a shadow of that former self."
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