My first tweet ever had a typo. My second tweet was an apology for my first tweet. I have come a long way since then.
That was fifteen years ago. I signed up for Twitter as part of a research project I had been hired to do for Nesta in the UK. I was researching all of the social networking sites at the time. I grew to love Twitter over time, and it remained my favourite for a long time.
May 2023 was my Twitterversary. Anniversaries are supposed to be joyous, but as I reflected on my time on Twitter and what has happened there, especially in the last year, I can’t help but feel a bit sad for the state that it is in.
Twitter used to have outsized influence as the place where news broke. News about the plane crash in the Hudson River broke on Twitter. The raid on the Bin Laden compound broke on Twitter, and I could go on with numerous other examples.
It was the platform where companies released news, and journalists were there to eat it up. When I was heading up social media for one of Canada’s largest banks, there was a Twitter account specifically for corporate news, and most of the account’s followers were journalists.
Besides news, Twitter was an amazing place to connect and engage with people worldwide, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t join a local Tweetup just from a simple hashtag. My social and digital marketers network in Toronto exploded because of Tweetups and other events shared on Twitter.
One of the more ironic things about Twitter is just how much content it provides, especially humorous content, for other platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Yet, people think it is content native to those platforms, and they seem to miss that it originated on Twitter. That probably sounds snarky or bitter because it makes me look like I think Twitter isn’t getting the credit it deserves, but I find it more ironic than upsetting. Regardless, I still appreciate just how much funny content is still there.
I just finished listening to the Flipping the Bird podcast that covered the path of Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. Suffice it to say that Elon does not come out smelling like a rose. Furthermore, recent news about Twitter being evicted for not paying rent, not paying Google for cloud services or withholding severance for many of the employees laid off unceremoniously and somewhat inhumanely after years of service do nothing to bolster his reputation as a visionary leader.
Frankly, the podcast and ongoing media scrutiny validate many’s suspicions that he was the wrong person to acquire the company. The company is supposedly now worth a third of the $44 billion acquisition price with little sign of sound strategies to aid a rebound.
Twitter Blue subscriptions were a bust for revenue, and the verification part has been abused, allowing parody accounts to flourish. In one instance, someone set up a fake Twitter account posing as Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company and tweeted that they would make insulin free. This set off a panic within Eli Lilly, and they scrambled to reach someone on Twitter. Even their ad rep from Twitter pleaded to Elon to suspend the parody account. Eventually, the account was suspended, and Elon did not comment then.
This spooked Eli Lilly and other advertisers, which Twitter desperately needs. Enter Linda Yaccarino, Twitter’s new CEO. Elon brought her in to appease advertisers and woo them back to the platform. Given her media and advertising background, some hope she can succeed. However, many remain skeptical because Elon will still have a hand in strategy. So far, many of his strategy decisions have not been thoroughly considered and some he has had to walk back after being poorly received or causing other unforeseen harm.
To add insult to injury, Twitter, along with many of the other major social platforms, face very stringent regulatory requirements, especially regarding content moderation. Failure to meet those requirements in more serious situations could mean fines as high as 6% of global turnover and, in extreme cases, a temporary suspension of the service.
One would think from the way Elon has been speaking to the media that he isn’t worried, yet he doesn’t seem to be implementing the necessary measures to meet the new European standards. Given Twitter’s desperate need for more revenue, it is hard to fathom why it would not be working harder to ensure that they don’t do anything to jeopardize access to one of the largest single markets in the world that is the EU.
Other social platforms are trying to leverage this opportunity to lure users to their platforms. Interestingly, Twitter tried banning posts containing links to competing platforms. Mastodon tried early on, but it appears too hard to migrate to, so it has not taken off like they probably hoped. Substack has their Notes offering. Post.news has investment from Andreessen Horowitz and Scott Galloway. There is also Artifact from the founders of Instagram and Bluesky from Jack Dorsey, one of Twitter’s founders. The latter has a million people on its waiting list, myself included, while it is still in beta, which could be a sign of a viable alternative to Twitter on the horizon.
Mastodon was never going to be a real competitor. It is better suited for Reddit fans and more technically adept folks, given its distributed model. I don’t know if Bluesky or another platform will emerge as a Twitter replacement, either. I have not seen Bluesky yet, and my experience with Post.news and Artifact thus far suggests more news feeds than social networks. Maybe there is one or more yet to be announced. Only time will tell.
I remain hopeful that Twitter will survive. It may never get back to the way it was. Maybe Elon will lose interest and move on, which could be its saving grace, but hopefully, he doesn’t drive Twitter into the grave first.
Where are the optimistic or at least somewhat hopeful Twitter users? What do you think will happen? What do you think of the alternatives? How many have you used, and what was your experience?