December 2, 2023

By Brian Fung and Clare Duffy | CNN

New York  — It’s been one yr to the day since Elon Musk accomplished his buy of Twitter for $44 billion and set the corporate, together with its staff and customers, off on a whiplash-inducing collection of twists and turns.

Twelve months on, the corporate barely resembles its former self — and never solely as a result of Musk renamed it “X” and did away with its iconic blue hen branding. By a dizzying and haphazard barrage of modifications, Musk has remodeled a worthwhile firm as soon as considered the world’s go-to supply for breaking information and political commentary right into a broadly ridiculed platform that’s preventing simply to interrupt even and crippled by debt; that’s struggling to handle spam and disinformation; that’s alienated a few of its largest advertisers and customers; and that’s casting about for function.

Whilst Musk — and new CEO Linda Yaccarino — push their imaginative and prescient for X as an “every little thing app,” the corporate has seemingly no clear path again to prominence or respectability, or to recouping Musk’s large funding.

Driving the transformation has been a relentless stream of layoffs, resignations and coverage reversals, in addition to messy product rollouts and unfulfilled guarantees. The corporate faces a collection of authorized challenges introduced by everybody from former staff to firm contractors and landlords which have additional sophisticated its outlook. X can also be the topic of a number of regulatory investigations by the US Federal Commerce Fee, Securities and Alternate Fee and EU officers that might doubtlessly result in penalties, each for the corporate in addition to Musk himself.

X claims engagement is up, however the firm seems to make use of completely different metrics than it did previous to the Musk takeover, making a real comparability tough. Visits to the corporate’s web site are down 14% in comparison with final September, far outstripping the three.7% decline industrywide over the identical interval, based on a report this month by the web monitoring agency Similarweb.

Yaccarino mentioned in a press release Thursday that she is “extremely happy with the work our workforce has been doing to speed up the way forward for X.” The X CEO highlighted among the new merchandise and options launched over the previous yr, together with the flexibility for corporations to submit job listings, longer posts, and audio and video requires Premium customers, which rolled out this week. She mentioned that X is “a spot the place everybody can freely categorical themselves, as long as they achieve this inside the bounds of the legislation,” and added that security stays a “essential precedence” for the platform.

“If we will obtain all of this in simply 12 months, simply think about the scope of our ambition for subsequent yr,” Yaccarino mentioned.

X is now going through maybe its largest take a look at but beneath new possession amid the continued Israel-Hamas battle — and quite a few tech watchdogs and civil society teams have raised alarms about false claims and propaganda linked to the battle on the platform. And as subsequent yr’s elections in the US and elsewhere elevate fears in regards to the additional unfold of misinformation campaigns, X’s worth to the general public dialog seems more and more doubtful.

All of this unfolded over the course of simply three hundred and sixty five days. However for a lot of, doubtless together with beleaguered customers who’ve decamped for options akin to Threads, Mastodon and BlueSky, it’s felt extra like a decade. Right here’s a (non-exhaustive) account of how Musk has essentially modified Twitter since he made one of the crucial consequential acquisitions of the social media age.

Heads rolling

In a collection of rolling layoffs within the months after his takeover, Musk axed what he would later describe as roughly 80% of the corporate’s headcount.

Few departments had been left untouched by the layoffs. They affected positions in among the firm’s most important areas: coverage, belief and security, communications, moral AI, search and extra. The consequence was a hollowed-out workforce charged with sustaining rickety methods that had already been described as brittle, and which Musk additional shrunk in an effort to chop prices. Beneath Musk, the corporate’s technical infrastructure proved more and more vulnerable to meltdowns, leading to a collection of glitches earlier this yr affecting customers’ means to make use of the location.

Alongside the way in which, Musk fired — or accepted the resignations of — key members of Twitter’s outdated guard, together with its former CEO and CFO, in addition to its common counsel, coverage chief, chief privateness officer, chief info safety officer, director of product management and head of belief and security. Even among the individuals who rose to grow to be Musk’s trusted lieutenants on the firm have already left.

The workforce cuts have prompted repeated questions, together with from US lawmakers and regulators, in regards to the platform’s means to reply to threats to safety and privateness, together with elections, misinformation and hate speech. And 1000’s of former staff have accused Musk of offering fewer severance advantages than they had been promised, and a few additionally allege he’s delayed severance advantages and funds to cowl executives’ work-related authorized charges.

Product and coverage overhauls

In his zeal to revive what he describes as “free speech” to X, Musk has made quite a few coverage and product selections which have altered what customers can see on the platform.

He reversed Twitter’s ban on former President Donald Trump primarily based on an unscientific ballot of his followers, after beforehand saying the choice can be as much as a “content material moderation council” that by no means materialized. He additionally reinstated the suspended accounts of white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. He quickly suspended a number of journalists from Twitter for his or her experiences on a third-party account dedicated to monitoring Musk’s personal jet (regardless of beforehand criticizing the platform’s suspension practices).

Beneath Musk’s management, the corporate eliminated particular protections for transgender individuals from Twitter’s hateful conduct coverage. X made it simpler for politicians and political candidates to qualify for newsworthiness exemptions from Twitter’s guidelines, after they would in any other case have their content material restricted or eliminated. The platform overturned a 2019-era ban on political and difficulty promoting, and issued an up to date, “zero-tolerance” coverage on violent speech that was however vaguer and extra subjective than what it changed. And it up to date Twitter’s privateness insurance policies to say the corporate could enable customers to opt-in to having their biometric info and job and schooling historical past collected by the platform.

However maybe no change has been as vital as Musk’s transfer to exchange Twitter’s legacy verification (“blue examine”) badges with a brand new type of verification that now not carries the specific assurance of authenticity.

Days after his takeover, Musk debuted — then un-debuted, and later revived — a subscription function that granted any person a blue verification badge in the event that they paid for the platform’s $8 per thirty days subscription plan. Critics warned that the system would result in impersonation on an enormous scale, and undermine a function that when helped customers to belief what they noticed on the platform.

Certain sufficient, when the function was first launched, Twitter confronted a wave of verified impostors pretending to be everybody from Nintendo to LeBron James. After the platform revoked the badges of accounts who’d been verified beneath the outdated system, Musk supplied to personally pay for verification for James and a number of other different annoyed, high-profile customers.

Beneath the brand new system, customers who paid for verification have their posts boosted by the platform’s algorithm. And extra lately, X rolled out an promoting income share program for verified customers, rewarding people who drive engagement with payouts — creating potential monetary incentives for engagement farmers and misinformation peddlers who share inflammatory or deceptive claims.

Because it dismantles outdated methods of eager about content material moderation, X leaders have repeatedly touted “Neighborhood Notes,” an expanded model of the “Birdwatch” user-generated moderation system that Twitter launched in 2021. X said this week that Neighborhood Notes now has greater than 100,000 volunteer user-moderators in 44 nations who’re collaborating in including contextual labels to content material on the platform.

However quite a few experiences have recommended that Neighborhood Notes is struggling to satisfy its mission, burdened by points like delays in customers including labels and unhealthy actors making an attempt to sport the system. (Yaccarino mentioned in Thursday’s assertion that Neighborhood Notes are getting sooner, and that “this product shouldn’t be good, however it’s bettering quickly.”)

Within the meantime, Musk has additionally antagonized and pushed away many journalists who beforehand contributed to the unfold of dependable info on the platform. Most notably, NPR and PBS deserted the platform completely in April after X labeled them as “state-affiliated media,” a designation the broadcasters mentioned misleadingly implied they obtain substantial backing from authorities entities or will not be editorially unbiased. The platform later modified the label to “government-affiliated media” after which did away with it altogether, however the retailers haven’t returned.

Lots of Musk’s content material and product selections have additionally led to what civil society teams have reported as a troubling unfold of hateful speech on the platform.

Sluggish enterprise

Within the early days of Musk’s takeover, a lot of Twitter’s largest advertisers — together with the likes of Normal Mills and the Volkswagen Group — paused their spending over issues about X’s layoffs, content material moderation capabilities and common uncertainty in regards to the platform’s future.

The mass advertiser pullback tanked the corporate’s income, and it nonetheless has but to totally get well. Musk has lashed out over the model revolt, accusing his critics of deliberate sabotage and even going as far as to sue one watchdog group, the Heart for Countering Digital Hate, and threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League, alleging they broken the model with claims about surging hate speech on X.

For its half, X has claimed hate speech is down and has touted new model security controls that purport to permit advertisers to limit what sorts of content material their adverts can run subsequent to. However even these security choices appeared to run into some early highway bumps.

The corporate’s leaders have supplied conflicting views on the state of its funds — making it unclear when and if X’s enterprise could be revived.

Musk mentioned in July that the corporate remained money move adverse due to a 50% decline in advert income and heavy debt load. A month later, Yaccarino mentioned many prime advertisers had returned and the corporate was “near breakeven.” The subsequent month, Musk mentioned US promoting income was “nonetheless down 60%.” Weeks later, Yaccarino mentioned the corporate may return to profitability early subsequent yr.

In the meantime, the banks that lent to Musk to finance his takeover are nonetheless struggling to dump the debt due partially to the billionaire’s chaotic management, the Wall Road Journal reported this week.

Yaccarino’s ascension to CEO in June signaled Musk’s dedication to profitable again advertisers; her monitor report as an NBCU advert govt, together with the cheery persona she projected on X, appeared to predict a brighter future for the corporate. However as Musk has continued to make off-hand bulletins in regards to the firm’s roadmap, at occasions seemingly taking Yaccarino without warning, outsiders have broadly questioned in regards to the true extent of Yaccarino’s authority and affect inside the firm.

In an interview final month, Yaccarino confused that she does have autonomy from Musk as CEO. “Elon works on the know-how and desires up what’s subsequent,” she mentioned. “I convey it to market.”

Musk’s erratic habits