Exactly one year ago, Elon Musk shocked the tech world by putting in a bid to buy Twitter for $44 billion. In signature Musk fashion, that figure worked out at $54.20 a share.
That offer led, months later, to an actual acquisition, and eventually to the situation we’re now in—one in which news organizations are being contentiously labeled as government-funded and many users remain baffled by the value proposition of the Twitter Blue subscription service plan. In short, after one year and several thousand layoffs, Musk has made Twitter immeasurably worse, according to former staff members and analysts.
“The last 12 months have made clear that millions of dollars and a very large ego are not adequate to manage the complexities of a social media platform, if you haven’t dealt with those issues before,” says Edward Perez, a former director of product management at Twitter whose focus was civic integrity. Perez left the company in September 2022.
Perez’s claim was on full display earlier this week, when Musk participated in a hastily arranged interview with the BBC (on Twitter Spaces, of course) , in which he claimed that hate speech isn’t an issue for the platform. “What hate speech are you talking about?,” he asked BBC journalist James Clayton incredulously.
But some ex-employees disagree with Musk’s dismissal of hate speech as a serious issue. “Twitter’s content moderation has moved from a carefully considered, policy-driven standard adopted by most large corporations, and which some considered too strict, to a policy largely driven by the whims of its CEO,” says Melissa Ingle, a former senior data scientist at Twitter who focused on content moderation. Ingle was let go from the company in late 2022. Indeed, research published earlier this month showed hate speech has increased since Musk took charge at Twitter.
Ingle, who is herself trans, worries about the haphazard way in which policies are implemented on the site—and the speed at which they’re reversed if Musk finds himself subject to the public’s ire. “The CEO now openly speculates that transgender people are engaging in violent acts instead of the reverse,” she says, despite evidence that trans people are far likelier than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime.
Ingle is also worried that Musk’s chaotic approach to ownership has wiped much of the site’s institutional knowledge. “The entire company seems to be run in this way; rollouts of new product enhancements such as Twitter Blue have been botched,” she says. “Musk has fired so many employees, from site reliability engineers to press relations, that it is likely no one inside or outside is really sure how the platform fully operates.” (When asked for comment on this story, Twitter’s press email provided an automated response of a poop emoji, as has become the norm.)
For his part, Perez, the former product director, believes that Twitter is “in a more fragile place than it was 12 months ago,” adding, “There are numerous accounts of specific reasons why the reliability is not what it used to be. From a business standpoint, the loss of advertisers and revenue is a serious problem.”
More damning than that, he says, is the loss of trust with long-term Twitter partners, key among them advertisers. Twitter lost half of its top 1,000 advertisers between September 2022 and January 2023, according to data from digital marketing analysis firm Sensor Tower.
And it’s not just advertisers who have seemingly grown tired of Musk’s act; users appear to be getting bored too. According to a survey released in January, the number of U.S.-based Twitter users dropped some 9% since Musk acquired the company.
“The platform and its owner are now the butt of many jokes in regards to social media, and Twitter has become an object of ridicule,” says social media analyst Matt Navarra. “I think that his legacy of chaos and uncertainty will continue to damage any value that’s left in the brand of Twitter.”
And while Musk has promised to step down as CEO once he finds a suitable replacement, Navarra worries that the leadership change will be too little, too late.
“I think what it would take for Twitter to turn the ship around is something that Elon Musk is constitutionally incapable of,” Perez says. “That would be for him to intentionally choose to get his own personal voice and personal ego out of the way, and get back to hiring and using trusted and trained and serious professionals who understand the complexities of social media policy and business.”