Today (Oct. 27) marks one year since Elon Musk purchased Twitter, which he later renamed X. The rebranding is only a small part of Musk’s overhaul of the site in order to make it his own. From leadership to user experience to content policy, the tech billionaire has changed the popular social media platform beyond recognition.
One of the first things Musk did after buying Twitter was slashing its staff. In an interview with BBC in April he said he had laid off around 80 percent of the staff since he came on as the owner. Many staffers also left on their own. Even though Musk said the jobs he cut “didn’t have a lot of value,” he notably fired and lost many high-level executives. And some have raised concerns about the lack of content moderators on the site, which now has a greater misinformation problem than it did before.
It’s hard to say what X will look like in another year, especially as the company struggles to retain users and bring in ad revenue. Musk said that he would turn Twitter into an “everything app,” which is the reason for rollout of features like paid subscription tiers and video and audio calls. The layout still mostly resembles Twitter, aside from the new logo. But in terms of accessibility and content policy, X is a far cry from what used to be called the “bird app.”
Here are the most notable changes Musk has made to the platform:
Twitter was free, but X is increasingly not
In the past, Twitter users would often respond to funny posts or trending topics by saying they couldn’t believe the site was free. Under Musk, a major change is underway.
By reinstating Twitter Blue, now X Premium, Musk has changed the platform’s verification system, which was previously reserved for users who were notable public figures, organizations, brands and business accounts. Now anyone can pay for a blue checkmark and can even make money if their content goes viral.
Musk eventually created distinctions for official accounts for companies, organizations and politicians who do not pay for X Premium, but many public figures, such as celebrities, have lost their verification marks, prompting them to leave the site. Even verified organizations have had issues with the new system. For example, NPR left X six months ago after being labeled as a “U.S. state-affiliated media” outlet. The New York Times’ account has been stripped of its verification label more than once.
Earlier this month, Musk announced a test program to charge a $1 annual fee for new users in some markets (the Philippines and New Zealand) to access basic posting and commenting functions in a bid to combat X’s bot problem. Musk has expressed his frustration with bots on Twitter since before he put a bid in for the company.
Some banned accounts are back and content policy is muddy
One of Musk’s promises for Twitter was to allow freedom of speech on the platform. He attempted to achieve this by reinstating some previously banned accounts. Those included users who were kicked off the platform for posting hateful language and spreading false information, like conspiracy theories.
Influencer Andrew Tate, who is currently facing charges for rape and human trafficking, was banned from Twitter in 2017 after his comments on sexual assault. His account has been reinstated by Musk. Other controversial figures who have been allowed back on the platform include the rapper Ye, formerly Kanye West, who was banned for anti-semitic posts, and former president Donald Trump, who was suspended following his posts in response to attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Musk is looking to limit harmful content on the platform by introducing more strict content moderation. X in April released a new content policy called “Freedom of Speech, Not Reach.” The new policy allows posts that may violate certain rules to be published, but they will be flagged “limited visibility” and made less discoverable for users. However, X’s paid verification system complicates the effect of this policy because users can pay for verification in order to boost the visibility of their content.
Many people argue Musk’s free speech crusade is only applicable when it works in his favor. In December 2022, for instance, he suspended multiple journalists after they wrote stories about an X policy change on live location sharing. Musk accused them of doxing or leaking private information about him and his family. Walter Isaacson, Musk’s biographer, revealed in his new book that when Musk took over Twitter, he had a team look through employees’ social media posts and Slack messages to find the staffers who had made unfavorable comments about him so that they could be fired. He also suspended comedian Kathy Griffin at one point for making fun of him on the site.
Changing Twitter’s content moderation policies has actually increased the amount of hate speech on the platform. Reports from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and the Anti-Defamation League have found an increase in hate speech towards minorities, as well as a rise in extremist content and misinformation.
Enter Linda Yaccarino
Musk announced in May he was stepping down as CEO of Twitter and brought on Linda Yaccarino to take on the role while he remained the owner. Yaccarino came to X from NBCUniversal, where she was in charge of global advertising operations. She was challenged with reviving X’s advertising revenue, which has decreased every month since Musk’s takeover.
Yaccarino has been with X for only a few months, but news headlines have centered not so much on her effort to make the site appealing to brands as around her and Musk’s fumbled communication with the public and with each other.
The duo have given different numbers when asked about X’s user count and made contradicting comments about the company’s relationship with the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit combatting antisemitism. In early September, Musk threatened to sue ADL for pressuring advertisers away from working with X, while Yaccarino said she had had a productive meeting with ADL president in late August.
Journalists and news organizations are having a hard time using the site
Some of the examples above also point to another one of Musk’s structural and cultural changes to the platform: news content is becoming less accessible.
Twitter was always a popular site for media organizations and journalists to share their work. But on X, credible news sources can be confused with accounts who pay for a premium subscription and spread misinformation. For a time, X hid links and mentions of Substack, a newsletter platform competing with Twitter. Musk also removed headlines from linked articles to discourage users from clicking away from the site.
Up until recently, journalists who reached out to X’s press team for comments would receive an automated poop emoji response. And along with removing The New York Times’ verification badge after Musk took issue with the news outlet’s coverage of the Israel-Gaza war, he also temporarily delayed clicks to the Times’ site by five seconds.
Overall, referral traffic from X to the top global news sites dropped steeply over the past year, recent data from SimilarWeb, a web analytics firm, show.