Updated December 1, 2022. Is Twitter on the rocks and about to disappear – or is it going to make a comeback, leaner and stronger than ever? The question is legit: After all, that is the way Musk has done it and does it, sprucing up with kicks and cuts Tesla and Space X. Yes, it hurts but it keeps them on a roll.
One may well wonder what happened with Twitter, Musk, Trump and all other suspended Twitter accounts. Now we know. They are all back: Elon Musk has announced a general amnesty for suspended Twitter accounts in a move that brought fear that “superspreaders of hate” would return to the social media platform.
Accounts suspended on Twitter include Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon, the rightwing UK commentator Katie Hopkins and David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.
It all began in late November when Musk announced Trump’s “reinstatement” to Twitter, claiming “the people have spoken” and concluding with a flourish “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” (all in caps). The poll however represents a tiny portion of Twitter’s audience: Slightly over 15 million Twitter users (on a grand total of over 200 million, more about that number later) voted in the poll with 51.8% voting in favor of reinstatement.
No matter how credible the poll was, Musk instantly followed through, reinstating Trump’s account.
But that account turned up looking old, with a tweet, dated January 8, the last one up before Trump was banned from the platform, and you don’t have to scroll down far to get a replay of all his worst tweets spreading false information about the presidential elections, for example this one:
They just happened to find 50,000 ballots late last night. The USA is embarrassed by fools. Our Election Process is worse than that of third world countries!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2021
Reuters found that Trump was apparently ready to “snub Twitter” and Musk. He told a panel at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting that “I don’t see any reason for it” – meaning no reason to return to Twitter.
At present, he is active on his own platform Truth Social.
Yet Musk can be forgiven for thinking that Trump was interested in coming back to Twitter: After all, after he’d acquired Twitter last month for $44 billion, Trump had posted on Truth Social that he was happy that Twitter “will no longer be run by Radical Left Lunatics and Maniacs that truly hate our country.”
But Trump appears to really like to be on Truth Social. Still according to Reuters, he reiterated that he would “stick” with Truth Social, the app developed by his Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG) startup, which he said had better user engagement than Twitter and was doing “phenomenally well”.
Also, Truth Social rules won’t make it easy for Trump, as they prevent him from posting on both platforms at once: He must wait 6 hours after he’s posted a message on Truth Social before he can do the same on Twitter. This said the 6-hour delay can probably be easily ditched and in any case, it’s a small technical hurdle that won’t matter much if you consider how Twitter, in principle, could give him enormous and precious exposure to a much larger audience.
Truth Social may be doing “phenomenally well” as he claims, but it has only some 2 million active users. That is piddling compared to the 86 million+ followers Trump used to have on Twitter. Not to mention the size of the Twitter platform: Over 1.3 billion accounts (okay, many fakes, but still…).
Twitter’s future: Black or rosy?
So the big question is: How will Twitter fare in future? Same as in the past, an indispensable platform for the global public discourse but incapable of making money? Or will it, at last, become a money-making machine like all those other Silicon Valley inventions?
The Twitter numbers that matter, the so-called “monetizable daily active users” are of course much lower than the total number of users: 237.8 million in Q2 2022, of which 41.5 million are in the United States. Still a lot more than Truth Social or any of the other social media platforms competing in the Twitter space:
That was the data as of October 29.
Now with Musk’s takeover of Twitter, Twitter appears in chaos, losing users every day as many celebs and advertisers leave the platform. Advertisers that have left Twitter – among them General Motors, Audi, and Pfizer have pulled their ads – continue to hit the pause button. Civil rights activists also continue to ask they stay out of Twitter.
Reportedly some 423,000 verified accounts are under the outgoing system, many of them celebrities like TV powerhouse Shonda Rhimes, “Madam Secretary” actor Téa Leoni and others in the entertainment world.
Yet the leakage is not lethal: Musk says Twitter has gained some 1.5 million new users.
And by December 1st, Musk announced that Twitter was undergoing a cleaning-up operation among its users, getting rid of fake accounts and the like:
Twitter is purging a lot of spam/scam accounts right now, so you may see your follower count drop
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 1, 2022
The clean-up of course started not with the users but with the employees. The day Musk walked into the CEO office, he fired the whole management. And he didn’t stop with them but carried on, firing at the lower levels too.
Now was this a cleaning operation, getting rid of the excess fat as modern CEOs love to do, keeping their company “lean” and “aggressive”? Or was it a gross management mistake, getting rid of the “people in the know”, who might “help” him manage Twitter?
With hindsight, it is clear now that Musk believed the former and the press believed the latter: The New York Times titled an article announcing: Twitter “teeters on the edge” as employees are leaving in droves. When Musk took over Twitter at the end of October, it had 7,500 full-time employees. which dropped to about 3,700 after mass layoffs in November – 1,200 are said to have left after Musk sent around an ultimatum requiring work with “long hours with high intensity”.
There are signs that Musk himself may feel he has gone too far and it is reported he is trying to hire some people back. Let me add quickly here: these reports are as yet unconfirmed. And even if he does hire somebody back here and there, it really doesn’t matter much.
What matters is the management course chosen by Musk: Cut out the fat. Risky but it could work. And, bottom line, can you blame him? Everything’s been tried over the years to improve Twitter and make it produce the returns one can reasonably expect from such a large platform – and nothing has worked. So the nasty “lean” course of action chosen by Musk makes some sort of perverse sense.
We still have to see how it will play out. So far, so good. Musk has found an agreement with Apple CEO Cook and Twitter won’t be removed from the App Store:
Good conversation. Among other things, we resolved the misunderstanding about Twitter potentially being removed from the App Store. Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 30, 2022
Still, it won’t be easy to turn Twitter around. With Trump hesitating to join Twitter, this is not good news for Musk who admits he’s been losing money as a result of the advertisers leaving the platform. Moreover, he now faces the additional burden of having to pay huge compensation packages (3 months’ pay) to all the employees he’s fired.
As to the specifics of how Musk plans to make money out of Twitter, it is clear enough: He will make users pay to have “verified” accounts. From a business standpoint, there is nothing amiss here. You’d end up with three types of accounts on Twitter, Official & Verified, Verified and the rest. Very smart move.
If Twitter will fail, it won’t happen all at once; it’s likely to be a progressive erosion, as bugs and glitches multiply, with violence-inciting posts on the rise as suspended accounts are restored. Too many tendentious, lying and bullying posts could turn the Twitter bird from blue to black.
Could a culture change at Twitter cause it to collapse?
As the above video argues, and many others that keep popping up on social media, Musk is being accused of bringing a change in corporate culture that many employees and users don’t accept. Adding to the problem is the fact that reportedly a large number of engineers are gone, leaving the platform in a highly vulnerable position.
On the user side, this changed culture makes Twitter appear increasingly more like a libertarian platform. So one may expect two movements, in and out.
Many progressive-leaning users have already left while rising numbers of conservative users flock back: Welcoming Trump back to Twitter certainly confirmed the new libertarian direction.
Complaints such as Monbiot’s are likely to multiply:
I’ve never had to block as many climate deniers as I have today. Either the emuskulation of Twitter has let them all in again, or it’s a new blitz by the fossil fuel producers.
— George Monbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) November 20, 2022
The influx of rightist, white supremacists and climate deniers will swell further with Trump MAGA fans if Trump joins Twitter.
Because more than any changes in the culture at large, what could make a difference in Twitter’s future is its political role: That is what could save it over the long-run.
Let’s take a closer look at what politics could do for Twitter.
Twitter has always been a political megaphone and could remain so
As Musk has often said, Twitter is a sort of digital “town square” for the world. A place where you stroll in your free time, pick up the news, drop your opinion and go back home, reinvigorated with the feeling of belonging to the human race, of “knowing what’s what”.
And for now there aren’t many convincing alternatives to Twitter. Actually, there are too many, and honestly, one wouldn’t know where to start or who to join: Consider the choices, ranging from Hive Social to Mastodon (the one most like Twitter) and others – or even alternative platforms like Tik Tok, Instagram, Counter Social or Substack.
Note that if you do a search online, you are not likely to find anybody suggesting Trump’s Truth Social.
So Twitter always was and remains the world’s best and loudest political megaphone. An instrument Trump has shown he knows how to use. Historically, Trump was the first US President to use it. He was one of Twitter’s most active fans and considers himself a master at crafting tweets, a sort of political Hemingway. Twitter was his favorite communication channel and at times he’d even announce his decisions on Twitter before he informed his own staff. He has even fired staff on Twitter before he did so to their face.
And there is no doubt that Trump’s signal performance on Twitter pushed political leaders around the world to adopt Twitter as their main channel of communication: Politicians now tweet before they even speak to journalists at press conferences or in interviews.
Twitter, for any ambitious politician, has an enormous advantage over the traditional media: It is instantaneous and it is shaped by you. Your message will get out there, where you want it to be – with your public – and in your own words before it ever hits the headlines. And headlines are notoriously a lottery: You never know what the newspapers might say about you.
The only drawback is that for your message to be heard, you need to have a lot of followers on Twitter and that is something Trump used to have and is likely to have again.
In short, being back on Twitter will give an enormous boost to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2024.
But, let’s be clear on this point: Not only Trump. Twitter works for any and all politicians. They need Twitter like fish needs water.
And, with the return of suspended accounts and conservative users, Musk appears to bet that it will also give an enormous boost to Twitter itself.
And he could be right: Twitter was always heavily skewed towards progressives and Dems, but now it could get a fresh contingent of conservatives and neo-liberals. That would enlarge it – not necessarily sink it.
Musk is showing his true colors
In opening up the platform to all suspended accounts, Musk is finally coming out in the open as a true libertarian, someone with little regard for human dignity and social justice.
We need to recall why Trump and all the other suspended users were banned from the platform. Trump’s tweets, after he lost the election to Biden, became laced with increasingly violent language calling to overturn the legitimate result of legitimate elections, and leading to the infamous January 6 Capitol riot that left several people dead.
Musk has never hidden his rightist leanings. When he met Trump in the White House, he told him he’d voted for him. His conservative roots run deep: He started out his fortune at the turn of the century with his friend Peter Thiel, a notorious libertarian, launching Paypal.
They both idolize Ayn Rand and to understand their worldview, all you need to do is read Thiel’s book Zero to One. Published in 2014 and the transcription of a course he gave to Stanford students in 2012 about startups, it reveals a chilling approach to business, where not only the winner takes all, but the end justifies the means, it’s no holds barred and the objective is achieving a permanent monopoly position.
How he will sort all this out is anyone’s guess. He’s announced a plan for user verification which will be released n Friday, December 2. The expectation is that there will be three types of verification ticks. “Gold check for companies, grey check for government, blue for individuals (celebrity or not) and all verified accounts will be manually authenticated before check activates,” he wrote on Twitter on November 25.
Whether or how he will monetize this is not yet known. For now, his optimistic tweet of 20 November still appears to apply:
Twitter is ALIVE
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2022
It’s not clear whether that was meant as a general message of hope as it clashes with an earlier rather cryptic and decidedly dark tweet the day before:
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022
Now, which is true? Is Twitter alive or dead? Or better yet: The old Twitter that tried to keep bullies and fake news out of the platform is dead. The new Twitter opened to any speech whatsoever, including “hateful tweets” is alive.
Was that Musk’s objective all along?
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Elon Musk Source: Image modified – from the original (under cc): See Professor Paul Bernal’s article Why Elon Musk The Chief Twit is in Trouble (he is Professor of Information Technology Law at the University of East Anglia School of Law)