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Elon Musk reinvents Twitter for his own benefit


SAN FRANCISCO — Practically 4 months into Elon Musk’s possession of Twitter, one of the crucial influential social media web sites has been remodeled right into a mercurial billionaire’s private sandbox.

Twitter customers knew the location would change beneath Musk, who bought the corporate in October for $44 billion and put in himself as CEO on a promise of restoring “free speech.” What many underestimated was the extent to which Musk would make wholesale modifications with the potential to disrupt the expertise throughout the location for his personal profit.

That strategy was illustrated dramatically this week when the location Platformer reported Twitter had made main algorithmic modifications — on Musk’s orders — that resulted in customers seeing the billionaire’s tweets first. Musk had been worried that his engagement was declining: His tweet throwing help behind the Philadelphia Eagles within the Tremendous Bowl had not carried out in addition to President Biden’s, for instance. The repair that Twitter rolled out pushed Musk’s tweets to the highest of many customers’ feeds, one thing extensively famous by customers.

Twitter’s public knowledge backs that up.

A brand new characteristic displaying view counts on tweets that rolled out late final yr confirmed Musk’s tweets on the time have been driving huge engagement, together with greater than 1 billion views on Dec. 18, for instance. All in all, Musk’s tweets on a typical day in December have been proven 231 million occasions.

However that quantity dropped off considerably this yr. Between Jan. 1 and the Tremendous Bowl, Musk’s tweets have been proven solely 137 million occasions on a typical day. This week, after his posts have been artificially boosted, he’s again as much as round 400 million per day, in line with a Washington Submit evaluation of the view counts.

Musk is a prolific Twitter person, who has a penchant for tweeting his thoughts and generally touchdown himself in hassle within the course of. Showing in courtroom final month over an notorious 2018 tweet he had “Funding secured” to take Tesla personal at $420 a share, Musk said he sees the location as an efficient option to talk with the general public, each to disseminate firm info and “memes.”

Musk and Twitter didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

Musk has almost 130 million followers, making him one of many website’s hottest customers. He first indicated he was pursuing Twitter in April, saying he needed to revive “free speech” and sort out the location’s persistent downside of spam and bots.

However a number of former Twitter staff, together with some with direct data of the problems he prioritized, stated Musk’s modifications have been usually geared towards bettering his personal person expertise. Knowledge has emerged exhibiting how he has benefited from the modifications, and examples have piled up month after month of particular actions geared towards bettering his private expertise on the location. The previous staff spoke on the situation of anonymity for concern of retribution.

At Twitter, Musk has bent the corporate to his impulses in ways in which may be much less possible at publicly traded Tesla, the place he additionally serves as chief govt, and which has a company board, in contrast to Twitter.

And at one level, Musk was so hellbent on eliminating spam and bots on the location, for instance, that Twitter — which makes use of cellphone numbers to confirm the authenticity of accounts — banned whole nation codes from its system, in line with the individuals with data of the matter.

That created an issue: one of many nations affected, Ukraine, is within the midst of a chronic conflict with Russia, the place social media has performed a key strategic position. Ukrainians instantly discovered they may not publish on Twitter.

And since Musk took over as Twitter CEO, the record of main modifications consists of a number of with a direct profit to Musk, former staff stated, with little potential upside for the remainder of customers.

In December, Twitter adopted a brand new coverage banning live-location sharing in order that accounts corresponding to one publishing the whereabouts of Musk’s personal jet might not publish that info to Twitter in actual time. Musk blamed an alleged stalking incident on the account — which he had beforehand held up as proof of his dedication to free speech — however police later said that they had not established a hyperlink between the 2.

After banning the jet account, Twitter banned journalists who had posted about it, as Musk baselessly accused them of posting “mainly assassination coordinates.” He backed down beneath public stress, however provided that the customers deleted the offending tweets.

The prior month, after a swarm of Musk impersonators surfaced within the wake of Musk’s introduced modifications to Twitter’s check-mark verification system, Musk adopted a zero-tolerance strategy to verified customers posing as others.

The brand new coverage resulted in fast bans on customers who didn’t specify they have been engaged in parody whereas posing as public figures. That resulted, for instance, in comic Kathy Griffin getting banned from the location, though she was restored later in November.

One of many former staff stated Musk’s aggressive give attention to impersonation emerged as high Twitter officers circulated examples of accounts parodying Musk himself.

“And all those that have been being despatched to us have been utilizing his picture,” the previous worker recalled, referring to Musk, who was a part of the conversations.

The order to nab impersonators filtered down by means of a Musk deputy, after it grew to become clear he had grown involved.

“Going ahead, any Twitter handles partaking in impersonation with out clearly specifying ‘parody’ will probably be completely suspended,” Musk posted on Nov. 6, saying the brand new coverage.

In the meantime, Musk stoked division over what he known as the “lords & peasants system” for awarding verification examine marks.

Certainly one of his key concepts for driving income was charging $8 a month for the signature blue badges, as Musk pledged to part out the older, “corrupt” ones held by customers together with many journalists and public figures. Musk has phased out the general public relations division at Tesla and dramatically pared down the communications employees at Twitter, which not usually responds to media requests.

Even earlier than he purchased Twitter, Musk’s emphasised the location’s have to crack down on spam and bots, significantly these shilling cryptocurrency.

“If our Twitter bid succeeds, we’ll defeat the spam bots or die making an attempt!” Musk posted on April 21, shortly earlier than the deal was made, a day earlier than he decried what he stated have been verified “rip-off crypto bots” on the location.

It wasn’t that crypto bots weren’t an issue.

“All of the examples have been fairly distinctive to him, however there have been these long-standing points that overlapped,” one of many former staff recalled.

Musk’s pronouncements concerning the issues plaguing Twitter even earlier than the takeover have been usually elevating alarms about points that have been removed from the standard person’s expertise, in line with the previous staff.

“I keep in mind individuals on our workforce pondering he’s having a really private expertise distinctive to him on the platform,” stated one of many former Twitter staff, talking on the situation of anonymity for concern of retribution. “Our impression was simply that he was describing his very particular expertise as a Twitter person and Elon Musk isn’t a typical Twitter person.”

Musk has additionally acknowledged errors. In December, as Musk was in Qatar attending the World Cup Last, Twitter rolled out a coverage banning the promotion of different social media websites, corresponding to Instagram, and prohibiting customers from pushing hyperlinks to competing websites corresponding to Mastodon. The transfer led to swift backlash, together with from some Musk supporters who stated the brand new coverage flew within the face of his free speech dedication, and Musk backed down later that day.

He then launched a ballot asking whether or not he ought to step down as Twitter CEO. After respondents to the unscientific survey voted sure, Musk dedicated to discovering a brand new CEO. By mid-February, no clear candidate had emerged and Musk said at a global summit this week that he in all probability would wish till the tip of the yr to discover a successor.

Since taking up, he has lower Twitter’s employees by greater than two-thirds, and engaged in an aggressive marketing campaign of cost-cutting focusing on Twitter’s office and infrastructure, reorienting the corporate round what he regards as his star workforce of engineers. He has put in loyalists in key roles, and introduced in engineers from his different firms, together with Tesla, to supervise the location’s operations.

Earlier than taking up, he had heaped criticism on his predecessors’ strategy to content material moderation, casting them as a pro-censorship regime that was stifling free speech. That led Twitter to revive many beforehand suspended accounts, corresponding to that of former president Donald Trump, and raise bans on 1000’s of beforehand suspended accounts beneath an amnesty coverage. In the meantime, his workforce has rolled out a system of different-colored verification examine marks to tell apart between authorities, enterprise and different verified accounts.

Essentially the most dramatic change to the person interface of the location is the rollout of an algorithmic feed, much like what customers would possibly encounter on apps corresponding to Instagram or TikTok, a departure from Twitter’s largely chronological construction prior to now. As a substitute of defaulting to the most recent tweets, customers at the moment are proven a curated number of posts that may curiosity them — a transfer pushed by the pressures of the eye economic system, however one which some considered a departure from Twitter’s roots and position as a information aggregator.

That performed a task in pushing Musk’s tweets at occasions this week to the highest of customers’ feeds, the place they appeared beneath a bit labeled “For You.”

Even his early curiosity in buying the location was not less than partially pushed by its ban on the conservative satire website the Babylon Bee, in line with textual content messages revealed in courtroom, a website he had repeatedly praised and pushed as an alternative choice to The Onion.

In late January, Musk set his account to non-public — as he stated he was conducting an experiment associated to the visibility of his tweets.

He stated he was going personal to check “whether or not you see my personal tweets greater than my public ones.”

He talked about his following on a Tesla earnings name earlier that month.

Musk was requested concerning the potential model threat to Tesla introduced on by his vocal expression of political beliefs. It was a uncommon occasion by which Musk was confronted with the prospect of declining reputation.

“Let me examine my Twitter account. So I’ve obtained 127 million followers,” he stated in response. “It continues to develop fairly quickly. That means that I’m moderately well-liked.”

He added: “I may not be well-liked [with] some individuals however for the overwhelming majority of individuals, my follower depend speaks for itself.”

Joseph Menn contributed to this report.

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