A Look at All the Changes Implemented by Elon Musk at Twitter in his Time as Chief Twit
It’s been just over 50 days since Elon Musk dragged a sink into Twitter headquarters for his first day in his new role as owner of the platform, and since then we’ve had several policy changes, staff cuts, revelations of internal documents and more.
But now we may be at the end of the Elon as ‘Chief Twit’ experiment, with Musk tweeting out this poll on Sunday afternoon:
Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will stick with the results of this poll.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 18, 2022
The results have not gone in Musk’s favor, and he has so far stuck to his word to stick to poll results.
Which begs the question, ‘what was Elon actually doing, in a policy sense, at Twitter?’
Elon was very keen to show his views on ‘free speech’, and how the platform, under his ownership, will allow more types of comments and content.
But will it? Has he really changed anything to make Twitter more open?
Here’s a look back at all the big announcements and policy updates implemented so far by Elon and his Twitter 2.0 team.
1. Paid verification
Musk’s first big announcement was, of course, his paid verification plan, which will allow people to pay $8 a month to get a blue tick so they can digitally play along as celebrities in the app.
Musk originally wanted to charge $20 a month, before realizing that was too high for normal people who didn’t have billions of dollars in discretionary spending. So he lowered it to $8, or $96 a year to keep your blue tick — though iOS subscribers have to pay $11 a month because Elon doesn’t want to pay Apple’s 30% in-app purchase tax out of his own pocket.
Look, it’s a pretty flawed, self-serving scheme, offering little value to users, and a lot of value to Twitter, in terms of direct revenue, and as a way to authenticate human users (because, at least in theory, bots cannot pay). Musk had to revise the program to combat impersonation scams, which started as soon as it launched, but even now there isn’t much reason for people to pay up — especially when most users never tweet, so the benefits, for the majority, is really not worth the money.
But some people will pay, and Elon is working on additional incentives, like priority list of replies and search (again, irrelevant if you don’t tweet), while he also a new system flag whereby paying subscribers will be able to tune other accounts to lower their tweet exposure.
Again, Elon’s biggest fans will pay, as will those who have been desperate for a blue tick since forever.
Will it be enough to generate significant revenue or value from the program?
Honestly, I doubt it, and Twitter’s most recent efforts to restrict users from posting links to their Mastodon accounts probably indicate that Twitter Blue usage was not what Elon expected or hoped for.
But we’ll find out soon, with Twitter Blue rolling out to more regions.
2. Account Restorations
A big sign of his intentions to make Twitter more free and open was Musk’s announcement that he would restore the profiles of users previously banned from the app. Well, it was less of an announcement, and actually a poll of users, which became Musk’s go-to circuit breaker for big decisions.
Over the past month, Twitter has reinstated around 60,000 accounts belonging to those who previously violated the platform’s rules – as Musk wants to start fresh, with a clean slate.
All of these profiles still have to play by the platform’s rules, but some of the app’s biggest offenders of yesteryear are now back and tweeting again.
And about those rules…
3. Update of Twitter’s rules and regulations
Here’s the thing – for all of Musk’s talk about updating Twitter’s approach, and making the platform more open to more kinds of speech, Twitter itself has repeatedly told ad partners that its policy hasn’t changed.
As Twitter shared in a blog post on November 30:
“None of our policies have changed. Our approach to policy enforcement will rely more on de-amplification of offending content: freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.”
Again, Twitter has yet to change any of its policies, and while Musk continues to talk about allowing more speech, pointing the finger at past management for their perceived bias, Twitter’s rules on content and what’s allowed in the app and not. , are exactly the same.
Some have suggested that Musk has cracked down on child sexual abuse material, although experts say the changes have had little impact, while Twitter also stopped enforcing its COVID misinformation policyan area where Musk has strong opinions.
But functionally, the Twitter you’re currently using is no more free or open than the one run by Parag Agrawal at the same time last year.
Twitter relies more on automation because Musk has cut a large amount of its moderation staff, so there are likely more errors in enforcement. But again, as the rules are written, as the policies are established, Elon Musk has done nothing to update Twitter’s approach to what is and isn’t allowed in the app.
Or he didn’t, until last weekend.
4. No Doxxing
However, Elon Musk announced one important policy shift:
“When someone shares an individual’s live location on Twitter, there is a greater risk of physical harm. Going forward, we will remove tweets that share this information, and accounts dedicated to sharing someone else’s live location will be suspended.”
After an incident in which his young son was confronted by a stalker, Elon decided to take decisive action against any Twitter account sharing live location information to avoid potential harm.
Twitter’s new rules states that users can no longer shareive location information of any kind, ‘including information shared directly on Twitter or links to third-party URL(s) of travel routes’. Which, technically, pretty much rules out all live streams, since you’ll be sharing the live location of anyone featured in the video.
Which could become a problem in the event of civil unrest, and governments wanting to eliminate negative coverage as a result. For example, say a user shares footage of protests in Hong Kong, and the Chinese government calls on Twitter to shut down the stream because of this rule.
This is not exactly what the update is intended for, but it can be used this way.
What’s most interesting here is the fact that Musk drew the line at personal safety. In Musk’s view, live location information should not be shared because it could lead to real world damage. Which most would agree with, and since this is the parameter, it will be interesting to see if future policy decisions at the application are made with this in mind.
This is essentially the key logic from which Twitter’s moderation team has always worked – ‘what are the chances that this tweet will cause real harm in the real world?’
Musk and Co. wants to demonize Twitter’s past decisions and cast them as politically biased, but it’s interesting to see that Musk is now seeing that basic logic.
Maybe that will color his future changes. Probably not.
5. Banning links to other social apps
Twitter also banned links to selected rival social platforms for a few hours on Sunday, before reversing course fairly quickly due to massive backlash.
It was stupid policy, which Twitter seemingly acknowledged by removing all references to it pretty quickly. Essentially, Twitter tried to ban all links to Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Nostr and Post.
Why these applications? Why not YouTube or TikTok?
I’m guessing it’s because Elon saw users tweeting links to these alternative platforms where users could follow them since they seemed to jump off Twitter. Mastodon is the most obvious culprit here, but I’m also guessing that Elon was in contact with Meta, and that meeting didn’t go well, hence the inclusion of IG and Facebook.
Nostr is a favorite of former Twitter chief Jack Dorseyand Post is almost a carbon copy of Twitter.
Why not YouTube? Well, YouTube’s parent company, Google, could fire back by refusing to index tweets in Google Search, which would be a big problem for Musk and Co.
Why not TikTok? Elon’s other company, Tesla, is quite dependent on the Chinese market.
Like Elon’s other changes, this one seemed pretty shadowed by personal bias. And since it likely ran afoul of EU regulations, and could have led to antitrust and other penalties, it makes sense for Twitter to move on and pretend it never happened.
And despite all the hype, it actually is. Twitter actually hasn’t implemented many changes at all – which makes sense when you also consider the staff cuts, and the impact it’s had on the platform’s capacity to operate.
Twitter has hinted at ad-reduced and ad-free subscription levels, it’s exploring longer tweets and longer video uploads. It’s accelerating the launch of Community Notes, as a way to provide additional user-sourced perspective on divisive tweets, while also working on new ad placement controls, while Musk also hinted at bringing back Vine.
But for all the noise, for all the media coverage, for all the discussion Musk has generated in his time as ‘Chief Twit’, he hasn’t really changed anything. Like, at all.
Which again underscores Elon’s true skill and power – he is very, very good at generating media attention, and essentially owning the media cycle, just through his tweets.
Tesla has never had an advertising department for this reason because they don’t need one, with Elon always able to go out, say something weird and bring the media to him like pigeons scrambling for scraps.
This may be Elon’s most valuable attribute, and for a social platform that relies on getting people to come hear the latest, that, at least in theory, can be very valuable.
The challenge for Elon, then, is that he will have to come up with controversial things to say, to continue to spark mass coverage and bring more people to the app.
It may be working so far, but as Elon continues to fuel political divisions and skirt the edges of social platform regulations, it looks like it will eventually come to an end.
That might be why now is a good time for Elon to step away, if he does, though that still doesn’t mean he won’t be in charge of the app.
Elon taking a back seat makes sense, if he does. And his history doesn’t suggest he’s too good to play a more passive role at his companies.