Twitter’s new CEO Elon Musk has plagued users and advertisers with half-baked policy proposals, reversals and other changes after officially taking over the company less than two months ago. During his tenure, Musk has made frequent use of the easily manipulated Twitter poll feature, letting users vote on changes for the company, including voting for Musk to step down.
When Musk took over the platform, he immediately dismissed Twitter's Board of Directors, leaving himself solely in charge, and he has since disbanded Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council — a group of external organizations that “advised on issues including online safety, human and digital rights, suicide prevention, mental health, child sexual exploitation, and dehumanization.” Instead, Musk has personally catered to right-wing extremists, reinstating thousands of previously banned right-wing accounts and allowing them to push hate speech and conspiracy theories on the platform. At the same time, Musk has driven away dozens of advertisers, which cost the company millions in crucial revenue, and he gutted the company down to one-third of its original size by eliminating entire teams and groups responsible for keeping users safe and the platform functional.
Media Matters warned that Twitter under Musk would “become a supercharged engine of radicalization” and in his two-month tenure, Musk has used Twitter polls, which can be easily manipulated, to make consequential decisions and has implemented numerous policies that have transformed the platform into one that embraces extremists, white nationalists, and misinformers. Some of Musk’s policies also created additional confusion after they were quickly reversed.
Using Twitter polls to make content and user moderation decisions
To make significant content and user moderation decisions, Musk has relied on Twitter polls that are likely plagued by bots, even though he told civil rights groups that he would create a content moderation council that would bring together “diverse views” to help guide such decisions.
As CEO, Musk has launched at least five different polls asking users to help him make decisions about the future of the platform.
Results of three of the polls have been implemented, including the polls that resulted in former President Donald Trump’s reinstatement, “general amnesty” for previously banned right-wing accounts and other accounts responsible for bigotry and misinformation, and the reinstatement of numerous mainstream journalists who were baselessly suspended.
Musk’s most recent poll, which he promised to “abide by the results” of, asked if he should step down as Twitter’s CEO. A majority – over 10 million people – voted yes. Before the poll closed, Musk tweeted, “No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive. There is no successor,” despite recent reporting that Musk was looking for a new CEO before even launching the poll.
After numerous Musk sycophants replied to the unfavorable poll results saying, for example, that he should “clean up and then run this poll again,” Musk seemed to agree that the poll was likely compromised by bots. When another user suggested that only those willing to pay for a Twitter Blue subscription should be able to participate in such policy-related polls, Musk replied, “Good point. Twitter will make that change.”
The future of Twitter and major policy decisions will seemingly be left up to these polls. According to Musk, “Going forward, there will be a vote for major policy changes.”
Changing Twitter policies and features, some of which are seemingly a reaction to users or content Musk doesn’t like
Musk has enforced a number of new policies, some of which seem to be used as justification to remove accounts that he finds personally offensive. After a number of users were transforming their personal profiles to mimic Musk’s account, for example, Musk instated a rule, without informing the company’s policy team, that those who do not clarify that they are parody accounts will be banned.
Musk also changed Twitter’s policies to prohibit “tweets or accounts that share someone’s live location,” using this as justification to ban a handful of accounts, including journalists. Even though he said his commitment to free speech is so strong that he refused to ban an account that tracked the whereabouts of his private plane — @ElonJet — Musk used his new policy to suspend the account and several journalists, including reporters from the New York Times, CNN, and the Washington Post.
Under Musk, Twitter has removed its COVID-19 misinformation policies, which experts believe will harm public health and could lead to more deaths. Additionally, on November 7, Musk tweeted out a link to “The Twitter Rules,” with the caption, “Twitter rules will evolve over time, but they’re currently the following,” leading to confusion about whether misinformation would still be prohibited on the platform, even as misinformation continued to proliferate, particularly after Musk took over.
Last week, Musk removed the feature that showed from which type of device a tweet was sent, after professing his contempt for this feature on November 14. Ironically, the feature was an important indication in “determin[ing] a real person from a bot or other automation.” (Musk proclaimed that he would “defeat the spam bots or die trying!” when he bought the platform.)
Causing further confusion by revoking newly implemented policies and features
Musk conceded early on that under his control, Twitter “will do lots of dumb things in the coming months.” In the weeks that followed, Twitter rolled out and then quickly revoked several policies and features, including the beleaguered launch of Twitter Blue — a paid subscription service that enables any user to acquire a blue “verification” check mark. Immediately upon launch, multiple public figures and large brands were impersonated, including insulin maker Eli Lilly, which infamously lost billions in stock value after their impersonator account tweeted a fake announcement that “insulin is free now.” After just two days Musk paused the service, relaunching it a month later with a suite of multicolored verification check marks and labels.
On December 18, Musk announced and then reversed a policy banning the promotion of other social media platforms on Twitter, including Twitter’s competitors. Hours after announcing and implementing the policy, including reportedly suspending Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz for allegedly violating this policy, Musk apologized and the Twitter Safety account put an altered version of this policy up to a vote. The poll closed overwhelmingly in opposition to the policy.
A timeline of Musk's chaotic tenure
- October 27: Musk tweeted “the bird is freed” after firing former Twitter executives and sending out an email to staff saying that layoffs were set to begin. Per an SEC filing, Twitter’s board was also dismissed, making Musk sole leader.
- October 30: Musk flexed his new power by issuing a directive, without any context or rationale, to change the page users land on when they log into Twitter to the explore page, rather than their feed.
- November 3-4: Twitter employees were hit with the first big wave of layoffs. Over 3,000 people — or around 50% of Twitter’s workforce — were affected, including the entire ethical AI team and most of the company’s communications team.
- November 6: Without informing the policy team, Musk tweeted, “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” after some users were mimicking Musk’s account.
- November 7: Musk tweeted out a link to “The Twitter Rules” with the caption, “Twitter rules will evolve over time, but they’re currently the following.” This led to confusion about whether or not misinformation violates Twitter’s policies. (The platform has a separate page on Twitter’s Help Center website that addresses misleading information.)
- November 9: Twitter Blue — the ability for users to pay for a blue verification check mark on their account for $7.99 per month — launched.
- November 10: Six Twitter executives resigned: Yoel Roth (head of moderation and safety), Lea Kissner (chief information security officer), Marianne Fogarty (chief compliance officer), Kathleen Pacini (head of HR and talent management), Damien Kieran (chief privacy officer), and John Debay (director of software engineering). Several other members of the site’s privacy and security unit resigned as well, prompting “a rare warning from the Federal Trade Commission.”
- November 11: Just days after launching and causing mayhem — as multiple users and brands were impersonated — Twitter Blue was paused, apparently at the directive of Musk, but it allowed users already subscribed, including extremists, to keep their subscriptions.
- November 12: Twitter employees were hit with a second wave of layoffs that impacted around 4,400 contractors, who were laid off without any notice.
- November 14: Musk fired three longtime Twitter engineers, seemingly for criticizing him.
- November 15: Musk fired roughly two dozen more employees, seemingly for expressing sympathy for those fired the day before.
- November 16: Musk sent a midnight email ultimatum for remaining Twitter employees: either commit to being “extremely hardcore,” or quit and receive three months severance pay. Reuters reported that hundreds of employees resigned following this email.
- November 18: Musk tweeted “Freedom Fridays ...” seemingly to announce the beginning of reinstatements of formerly banned accounts, starting with Kathy Griffin, Jordan Peterson, and the Babylon Bee.
- November 19: After launching a poll about whether Twitter should reinstate Trump’s account — which was permanently suspended following the January 6 Capitol insurrection “due to the risk of further incitement of violence” — Musk tweeted, “The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated.”
- November 24: After another poll posted by Musk, Twitter began granting “amnesty” to previously suspended accounts that had “not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.”
- November 29: Twitter stopped enforcing its COVID-19 misinformation policies, providing no further details beyond, “Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.”
- November 30: Twitter announced that it was expanding recommendations to all users.
- December 12: Twitter Blue relaunched, with the stipulation that accounts would be reviewed before getting a blue check. Additionally, gold checks were rolled out for some businesses. Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council was also disbanded because, according to an email obtained by CNN, Twitter is “reevaluating how best to bring external insights into our product and policy development work. As part of this process, we have decided that the Trust and Safety Council is not the best structure to do this.” The dissolution of the council came less than an hour before members were scheduled to meet with Twitter executives, according to The Washington Post.
- December 14: Twitter launched a new policy that users “may not publish or post other people's private information without their express authorization and permission. We also prohibit threatening to expose private information or incentivizing others to do so.” The new policy was used as justification to ban an account, @ElonJet, that tracked the location of Musk’s private jet, and journalists who Musk accused of “doxxing” him by reporting on the @ElonJet account.
- December 16: Musk briefly disabled the Twitter Spaces feature after some of the suspended journalists were able to access it and press him about why they were targeted. Twitter also announced that it was reinstating a number of accounts “where permanent suspension was a disproportionate action for breaking Twitter rules.”
- December 17: Musk reinstated most of the journalists who he accused of “doxxing” him after issuing a poll that asked if they should be brought back to the platform. Later that day, Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz was allegedly suspended for violating a policy that was not yet introduced. Twitter also removed the feature that showed from which type of device a tweet was sent.
- December 18: Twitter announced — and subsequently revoked — a policy that prohibited users from promoting other social media platforms. Later in the day, Lorenz was reinstated and Twitter Safety launched a poll to see if an altered version of this policy should be reintroduced.
Ideas that Musk has yet to follow through with — or has completely abandoned
Throughout his tenure, Musk has offered a number of ideas for the future of Twitter. Few of them have materialized. Here is a list of proposals that Musk has presented, but has yet to follow through with or has completely abandoned:
- Axios reported on October 31 that Musk “instructed Twitter engineers to work on a Vine reboot that could be ready by year end.” There doesn't appear to be any updates since.
- On November 1, The Washington Post reported that Twitter was working on monetizing videos on the platform, “with a target of one to two weeks before launch.” Over a month later, this feature has yet to be implemented.
- The New York Times reviewed internal documents that reportedly showed Musk was interested in paid direct messaging, though plans were not finalized and this feature has not materialized.
- Musk envisioned using Twitter as a payment processor and filed registration paperwork to begin working towards this change in early November, according to The New York Times.
- Platformer reported that Musk’s Twitter Blue plans may force “all Twitter users to opt in to personalized ads in order to keep using the app.” Additionally, the company may force “users to share their location, agree to let Twitter share their data with its business partners, and used contact data phone numbers used in two-factor authentication for ad targeting purposes.” According to TechCrunch, the Irish Data Protection Commission is reviewing this proposal out of concern for users’ privacy under EU data laws.
- Before purchasing Twitter, Musk said that the platform should roll out encrypted direct messages. But Ella Irwin, Twitter’s new head of trust and safety, said that this was paused and may not ever be introduced because Twitter scans messages to look for harmful material, like child exploitation.
- Musk promised that a “content moderation council” with “diverse views” would be formed to help decide how to reinstate suspended accounts. This never happened — instead, Musk went ahead with reinstating accounts without a council or formal process.
- Numerous outlets have reported that Musk and longtime associate David Sacks have discussed putting all of Twitter behind a paywall.