Elon Musk’s upheaval of Twitter’s verification system has been just one of a number of controversial changes to the social media platform in a year.
It’s been a year since Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, officially bought Twitter for $44 billion (€41 billion) on October 27, 2022.
It was a dramatic deal, one which the self-declared "free speech absolutist" attempted to back out of, before being forced to complete amid a court case.
If the purchase of the social media platform was anything to go by, Twitter was in for a tumultuous time.
Summing up Musk’s first year in charge of what is now called X, Matt Navarra, a social media strategist and commentator, told Euronews Next that "we haven't seen X die, but we have seen it degenerate, deteriorate, and become more toxic and less valuable, less useful".
Twitter was the breaking news platform, the place people went to find out what was going on in the world in near real-time.
Verification meant accounts with blue ticks had been vetted by humans and were given that verification based on Twitter’s then assessment of who was "notable".
But most importantly users could trust that verified accounts were who they said they were thanks to identity verification.
That’s all gone out of the window with Musk’s X, where a monthly payment can get you the once-coveted blue tick, and all it signifies is you are a paying customer.
This isn’t the only major change that has come in, but it is one that has had far-reaching consequences for the platform’s users, trustworthiness - and balance sheet.
Twitter becomes X, the 'everything app'
In July of this year, Twitter was rebranded as "X," with a plan for it to become an "everything app". That meant, according to the then-newly installed CEO Linda Yaccarino, it would become "the future state of unlimited interactivity – centred in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities".
This was met with deep scepticism from many analysts at the time - and that hasn’t changed.
Navarra points out that "everything apps," such as WeChat, were “born out of a very specific set of circumstances and factors in unique market conditions” in China where it was created.
Reproducing that in Europe or the US is unrealistic, he says, due to the rules in place around competition and monopolies, not to mention the fact that people are wary of putting all their sensitive data in one place.
"Particularly with a company that's led by Elon Musk, when all we see and hear about that person right now is things that are negative and concerning and alarming, and a platform that is, at best, volatile in terms of its stability and in terms of its security as well," he explained.
Advertisers on the run
Advertisers have left the platform in droves, with many becoming wary of brand safety issues due to huge staff cuts in the platform’s trust and safety teams.
Musk himself tweeted in June that advertising revenue was down around 50 per cent, with the company struggling with "negative cash flow".
"I think the areas that have been now decimated, particularly around safety, have not helped in terms of the relationship with advertisers," said Navarra.
"And they've now got this situation where they're trying to persuade advertisers it's safe and they should advertise there, but then they're resistant to it, mostly because the brand X is now synonymous with Elon Musk".
Navarra says his clients are assessing whether the benefits they can get from using the platform outweigh the “increased risk and diminished functionality in some areas”.
Global companies he has worked with are “actively reviewing their presence and continued use of the platform,” while a large number have already paused their advertising there.
X’s future in Europe
Since his takeover, Musk’s X has been butting heads with regulators, especially in Europe.
Navarra explains that with "fewer guardrails and protections in place" to manage and moderate the more "toxic and risky content" spreading across the platform, it’s not just advertisers who are worried.
"It’s likely, I should say, to attract the attention of European regulators".
Earlier this month the EU’s digital rights chief Thierry Breton gave X 24 hours to outline how the platform would meet the bloc's new digital rules, with independent watchdog groups warning misinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict becoming rampant on the platform.
Musk pulled Twitter out of the EU’s anti-disinformation code in May but has since confirmed the platform will follow any laws passed in Europe.
Regulators in the US are also seeking a court order to force Musk to testify in their investigation into his purchase of Twitter.
From polls to poo emojis
Musk has at times appeared to make up new policies and features off the cuff, claiming he will make decisions based on the results of polls.
One poll he published ended with more than 10 million accounts voting for him to step down as CEO.
He has now done so following the appointment of Yaccarino, but at other times he has ignored poll results he wasn’t a fan of.
Another odd change that journalists quickly noted was an auto-response to any email to Twitter’s press email address - a single poo emoji.
No alternative to Twitter, the breaking news platform
The upheaval at Twitter led to huge demand from disillusioned users for an alternative, and several companies have staked their claim.
Bluesky, which has Twitter founder Jack Dorsey on the board, is a very close imitator of the platform, and it is building its user base by letting in only a few new users at a time through a waitlist and invite codes.
It is Facebook's parent company’s app Threads though that is "the most obvious place that people are looking to see an alternative to X that maintains that level of distribution" says Navarra.
In its first five days, Threads picked up more than 100 million users - but according to reports its user base has since plummeted.
Even if it can compete with X on the number of active users, it isn’t trying to take Twitter’s place as the app for breaking news, politics, and journalism.
That’s because Meta "doesn’t want that headache" associated with content moderation and political manipulation that has dogged Twitter and X, Navarra explained.
While Threads is "probably your best bet" to replace X, for Navarra "there's still a big question mark whether it can ever achieve the scale and relevance that X once had".