Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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As CEO, Elon Musk has plunged Twitter into chaos

From frequent outages to rampant misinformation, advertisers have plenty to worry about

Since Elon Musk purchased Twitter in October, there has been no shortage of headlines about his antics and failures at the company. The company has lost nearly 50% of its monthly ad revenue since Musk took over (according to a previous Media Matters analysis), as advertisers are reportedly concerned about his behavior and the direction of the platform under his leadership.  

As Media Matters previously documented, the first two months of Musk’s leadership were plagued by chaos; he fired 50% of Twitter’s workforce, disbanded the Trust and Safety Council, and removed (and then reinstated) the accounts of journalists he accused of “doxxing” him.  

This chaos has continued in 2023, as Musk has personally interacted with QAnon influencers while his leadership has allowed right-wing accounts to regain a foothold on the platform and wage harmful misinformation campaigns across the site. The misguided “free speech” crusade that has defined Musk’s approach to Twitter has also contributed to a significant rise in hate speech and misinformation flooding the largely unmoderated platform. The rise in hate speech has landed some advertisements next to posts from Holocaust deniers and Musk’s Twitter Blue verification service has even provided verified accounts for the Taliban

In 2023, Musk’s antics, failures, and chaotic tenure as the CEO of the social media company have continued, including:

  • With Musk neglecting content moderation, hate speech has skyrocketed and bad actors have taken advantage

  • There has been no shortage of content moderation failures at Twitter under Musk, as he has made unilateral decisions about content moderation. Under his leadership there has been an influx of hate speech, pro-Kremlin actors have been aided in their efforts to spread propaganda, and Taliban officials have received verification. 

    • Despite multiple reports, Musk brushed off claims of increased hate speech on Twitter, calling them lies. After the BBC reported that Twitter is “no longer able to protect users from trolling, state-co-ordinated disinformation and child sexual exploitation,” Musk said he was “rolling on the floor laughing my ass off.” The New York Times released a similar report, noting that hate speech skyrocketed on the platform after Musk’s takeover, while NBC also reported that it “found dozens of accounts and hundreds of tweets claiming to sell child sexual abuse material.” 
    • A Media Matters analysis found that advertisements for companies including The Wall Street Journal, Nokia, FanDuel, and Thermo Fisher appeared alongside posts made by accounts with a history of Holocaust denial. 
    • A Media Matters analysis found that retweets of tweets from nine anti-LGBTQ accounts using the slur “groomer” had increased over 1,200% since Musk took over the platform. Some anti-LGBTQ accounts were previously banned but reinstated under Musk’s leadership. 
    • Musk’s decision to let users pay to have their accounts verified helped pro-Russian accounts capitalize on the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, to push Kremlin talking points. This comes after Russian journalists claimed that they could use Musk’s Twitter to manipulate the West. 
    • Another group was able to capitalize on Musk’s verification scheme: The Taliban. The BBC reported in January that one person who “previously identified as a Taliban official” praised Musk for “making Twitter great again” and that multiple officials and supporters of the terrorist organization bought blue checks for their accounts.
    • Antisemitic posts on Twitter skyrocketed, and the platform is now facing a lawsuit in Germany for allegedly not enforcing its own policy platforms against this type of content.  
    • Musk claims that misinformation has decreased because Twitter eliminated “so many of the bots which were pushing scams and spam.” But Forbes reported that crypto scammers are alive and well on the platform — and that the problem seems like it is only getting worse. Some of these ads are even using Musk’s likeness to encourage users to buy crypto that doesn’t really exist. 
    • The Intercept reported that Musk censored a documentary that was critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. According to a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Musk “complied with the directions” from the Indian government. This came after Musk claimed the U.S. government meddled in the 2020 election by forcing Twitter to suppress a story about Hunter Biden. The internal documents he released did not support this claim.
  • As CEO, Musk has engaged with right-wing influencers and politicians and stirred the pot with “petty” and “childish” antics

  • In between creating functional and financial problems for Twitter, Musk has also found time for the antics that the public has come to expect of him. From his erratic tweeting and obsessing over his own — and right-wing accounts’ — engagement on the platform to his sophomoric attempts at humor (like covering the W on Twitter's headquarters sign to make it read “Titter”), Musk has engaged in “petty” and “childish” antics while running one of the biggest social media platforms in the world. 

    • The New York Times analyzed over 20,000 of Musk’s tweets, detailing how his “Twitter feed is often an echo chamber” where he regularly engages with users who either mention or praise him. (He has even praised his own quotes on Twitter.) Musk also uses his account to traffic “in juvenile humor and vulgar jokes” and post about far-right and culture war topics.
    • More specifically, Musk has used his Twitter account to defend Scott Adams, the Dilbert comic strip creator who went on a racist tirade, to claim that Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) wouldn’t date him because he’s “not cool enough,” and to call for Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon Shaman,” to be released from prison, where he is serving 41 months for his involvement in the failed January 6 insurrection. 
    • After right-wing influencers baselessly claimed that their reach was limited when they were public but that they gained traction when they were private, Musk made his account private to test this theory. In reality, Twitter’s algorithm amplifies conservative content more than left-leaning content.
    • Since taking the helm, Musk has repeatedly engaged with a QAnon influencer on Twitter, while reinstating other QAnon accounts and catering to far-right users.
    • After Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) was suspended for posting a graphic image of a dead antelope, Musk called him about the matter and reinstated his account. Musk tweeted soon after, “Going forward. Twitter will be broadly accepting of different values, rather than trying to impose its own specific values on the world.” 
    • NPR reported, “Got a question for Twitter's press team? The answer will be a poop emoji.” With much of the communications department laid off in November 2022, the press email went nearly silent. After nearly four months, the press email was once again responsive. Instead of providing legitimate answers to reporters, the email responded automatically with a poop emoji. 
    • In one of his latest immature moves, during a dispute with his landlord, Musk painted over the “W” in its logo at its San Francisco headquarters, so that the sign read “Titter,” a “petty” and “childish” move to make what’s “presumably a joke about breasts.” 
    • On April 4, Musk changed Twitter's signature bird logo to a stylized cartoon of the dog breed, Shiba Inu, which is the logo of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin. As a result, Dogecoin’s price increased 30%. (Musk currently faces a $258 billion racketeering lawsuit from Dogecoin investors who accused him of deliberately manipulating the price of the cryptocurrency.)
    • On April 10, Musk changed his name on Twitter to “Harry Bolz,” because he was “just hoping a media org that takes itself way too seriously writes a story about Harry Bolz.” 
  • 80% of Twitter employees have left since Musk's acquisition and his “extremely hardcore” leadership style has reportedly fostered a toxic workplace

  • As part of his effort to make up for the $44 billion cost of purchasing Twitter, Musk has laid off, fired, or otherwise lost around 80% of Twitter employees, including key engineers and policy leads. He appears to be taking the impact of these layoffs lightly, publicly mocking one employee who asked Musk if he had been laid off and in a recent interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Musk laughed along with the host, telling him, “If you’re not trying to run some sort of glorified activist organization, and you don’t care that much about censorship then you can really let go of a lot of people, it turns out.” 

    Since he took over Twitter, numerous employees have also come forward about the toxic work culture that Musk has fostered, including burdening employees with anxiety about job security, asking employees to sleep at the office, and appointing a “cutthroat” VP of trust and safety. 

    • As Kurt Wagner wrote for Bloomberg following Musk’s first 100 days post-acquisition in February, Twitter had become “a dumpster fire,” with employees grappling with mass layoffs, decreasing revenue, and random policy changes. 
    • Months later, Musk claimed that he has been sleeping on a couch at the San Francisco headquarters, where he said his dog Floki is in charge of running the company.
    • Former head of Twitter Blue Esther Crawford, who initially embraced the “sacrifice” of working for Twitter and has posted a photo of her sleeping on the floor at Twitter offices, was ultimately fired in February. Slate’s Alex Kirshner wrote that even those “who were all in” and “prepared to stick around long after Musk had slashed everything but his expectations for their performance” were hit by cruel layoffs.
    • Pregnant ex-employee Bim Ali was laid off on January 4 and left without the health insurance that her job at Twitter had provided. Other former workers told CNN that company culture “felt like whiplash” from the extreme lack of job security. Many are also struggling to find new jobs in the tech industry, which has seen widespread layoffs since at least the start of 2023. 
    • Former Twitter employee Halli Thorleifsson, who had been unable to get an answer from Twitter HR on whether he was fired or not, tweeted at Musk inquiring if he still had his job. Musk responded with two laughing emojis and later stated, “The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm. Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.” Musk later publicly apologized to Thorleifsson, who has muscular dystrophy.
    • Ella Irwin, the Musk-appointed Twitter VP of trust and safety who previously worked at Amazon, has been described by former colleagues as “cutthroat” and “miss[ing] a human piece of how to treat people.” Reporting from The Daily Beast notes that Irwin would routinely “destroy people in a conference room” at Amazon, and that this toxic workplace culture has likely transferred over to Twitter, where Musk promotes a “hardcore” work environment.
    • On February 14, after Musk’s own Super Bowl tweet earned lower engagement than President Joe Biden’s, he directed engineers to artificially inflate his presence on users' feeds to correct an “engagement issue.” This came after Musk reportedly fired top engineers because of his declining views and supposedly threatened to fire other engineers unless they could show more people his tweets. 
  • By constantly changing core features, Musk has broken key aspects of Twitter

  • As CEO, Musk has substantially changed a number of Twitter's core features, with several policy and functionality changes being revoked shortly after implementation. With changes ranging from increasing the character count for tweets to rescinding access to the platform’s API, a number of these updates have resulted in malfunctions across the platform and widespread user frustration. With users and observers commenting that Twitter is “broken” under Musk’s leadership, below are some of the platform-altering changes and personal crusades that Musk has championed.

    • Continuing last year's turmoil over Twitter Blue and account verification, Musk has repeatedly announced various dates for the removal of “legacy” verification check marks, initially claiming they would be removed on April 1, and then pushing the change back to April 20 without reason. 
    • While the cutoff for legacy verification was pushed back, Twitter still went ahead and merged the verification description for both Blue subscribers and legacy verified accounts, blurring any distinction between paid users and legacy accounts that have proven to be reliable and credible sources of information on the website.   
    • On February 8, Musk oversaw the expansion of a tweet’s size limit from 280 up to 4,000 characters, to end the practice of posting screenshots of longer statements, which he called an “absurdity.” Upon implementation, users reported that Twitter’s main functions had crashed, leaving them unable to tweet, retweet, follow users, or send direct messages. 
    • Following an announcement that Twitter would end free access to its API on February 9, journalists, researchers, advertisers, and users raised concerns over the ramifications that removing API access would have on user experience, including important and potentially lifesaving public service announcements. Despite Twitter delaying when access to API would be rescinded, multiple organizations are still unable to provide automated updates about issues including weather and transportation alerts.
    • On March 6, during a systemwide outage that prevented users from viewing images and clicking through links in tweets, Musk complained that Twitter was “so brittle” after the platform reported an unspecified “internal change that had some unintended consequences.”
    • After learning that The New York Times would not pay to keep its verification status, Musk reportedly ordered that Twitter engineers remove the paper’s verification mark on April 2. Musk's decision to target the Times, one of Twitter's largest accounts, was seemingly made in response to prodding by a meme account and resulted in the Times operating several accounts under conflicting verification standards simultaneously.
    • Users began reporting in April that posts made to their Twitter Circles groups were appearing on the timelines for users who were not in their private Circles group, raising privacy concerns and frustrating users who expected certain posts to be limited to small groups of followers.
    • April also saw Musk’s personal feud with the newsletter site Substack take a turn, as Twitter began limiting accounts from engaging with tweets featuring links to Substack. 
    • Musk’s Twitter also falsely branded NPR and BBC accounts as “state-affiliated media” and “government-funded media,” respectively, leading to NPR leaving the platform and the BBC having its designation removed after significant protest.
  • With Twitter losing money under Musk, the company has been forced to seek alternative methods for revenue

  • With Twitter reportedly seeing 40% of its revenue evaporate as advertisers remain anxious over Musk’s leadership, interest payments on the nearly $13 billion in debt taken on during Musk’s purchase looming, and Twitter reportedly dropping in value by more than 50%, the beleaguered CEO has been forced to find novel sources of revenue from the platform. Despite his claim that Twitter is “trending to break even,” many of Musk’s proposed revenue streams have either fallen flat or have generated mass pushback from users. 

    • Musk announced on January 3, that he would revoke Twitter’s years-old policy against allowing political and issue-based advertisements on the platform. Politico reported that in the 2 months following that reversal, no paid political ads were taken out on the platform. 
    • It was reported on January 11 that Musk had considered selling usernames through an auction system. 
    • In a March 27 tweet, Musk claimed that only paid Twitter Blue accounts would appear in a users “For You" feed, a statement that would later be walked back to allow users to see posts from non-paid accounts that they already follow. 
    • On February 4, Musk announced that corporate Twitter accounts would have to pay $1,000 a month to keep their previously free verification status, leading a number of media organizations to reject the new verification scheme.  
    • Musk changed Twitter’s corporate identity on April 4 to “X Corp.” as part of Musk’s still unclear plan to have the social media platform serve as a hub for crypto exchanges, stock trading, and social media. 
    • After stating that it would no longer be granting free access to Twitter’s application programming interface on February 2, Musk announced that users of Twitter’s then-free API service would have to pay $2.5 million per year to retain full access.
  • Musk’s leadership has resulted in founders, employees, and media outlets leaving Twitter

  • Musk's antics have resulted in Tesla owners, media outlets, and even longtime Twitter employees growing frustrated with his management of the platform. Many of these individuals have left Twitter in search of greener pastures since he took over. Some key trends defining the exodus from Twitter are detailed below.

    • Immediately after Musk took over, users started to flee Twitter for one of its competitors: Mastodon. Before Musk’s takeover, Mastodon had around 300,000 monthly users; it now has approximately 2.4 million. Dewey Digital reported that this migration was most significant in the weeks immediately following Musk’s acquisition, though Twitter users have also continued to move to Mastodon in the following months.
    • Twitter’s own employees and founders are leaving the platform they built due to policy changes at the company and Musk’s mistreatment of employees. Several big names, including co-founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone, have even migrated to Mastodon. Amid mass layoffs across the company and declining workplace culture, “it’s an open secret that many employees who remain at Musk’s ‘hardcore’ Twitter are actively looking for other jobs,” according to The Verge.
    • Some Tesla owners have reported that poor quality control on their cars, combined with Musk’s mishandling of Twitter and espousing right-wing views and conspiracy theories, have caused them to ditch the brand, according to Insider.
    • NPR abandoned Twitter on April 12, after Musk falsely labeled its account twice; first as “state-run media,” categorizing the public news organization with propaganda outlets, and then as “government-funded media.” NPR CEO John Lansing responded by calling out Musk’s platform for “taking actions that undermine our credibility by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent.” Musk responded to NPR quitting Twitter by tweeting, “Defund @NPR.” 
    • Musk added a similar “government-funded” label to the account for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, prompting the CBC to pause its engagement with Twitter. Musk had the label changed to “69% government-funded” after the CBC protested.
  • Governments have scolded Musk for his leadership of Twitter

  • Musk’s leadership of Twitter — along with the noted rise of hate speech and misinformation on the platform following his takeover — has raised significant concerns from government officials around the world. Musk is already under investigation by U.S. authorities over national security concerns regarding the financing of his acquisition of Twitter, and other regulatory bodies are taking an interest. 

    • Twitter was the only social media company that failed to complete its annual report on misinformation for the European Union’s Digital Services Act. The report also failed to include the required plan of action for fact-checking information on the site, and there were calls to add more moderation staff. 
    • Turkey issued a fine against Twitter over the nature of Musk’s takeover, saying that the acquisition was in violation of Turkey’s competition rules.