How Elon Musk changed the meaning of Twitter for users

How Elon Musk changed the meaning of Twitter for users

After Nicholas Campiz was deported from Ukraine’s capital Kiev in February 2022, he stuck to Twitter. As fighting raged across the country, he tracked them on the app, staying for several nights in a hotel room in Tbilisi, Georgia, to read updates, one tweet at a time.

“As more Ukrainians came to Twitter to tell their story, you had a lot of good accounts of them,” Mr. Campiz said.

When war broke out in Israel and Gaza this month, Mr. Campiz, a 40-year-old cartographer who now lives in Florida, turned to Twitter again. But his timeline on the app, which has been renamed to

With the war in Ukraine, “Twitter was invaluable because you were able to connect with accounts that were providing good information,” he said. “I feel really helpless in the Israel-Gaza issue because Twitter has lost the ability to do that anymore.”

It has been a year since Elon Musk bought Twitter. Since then, the meaning of the social media service has changed – sometimes drastically – for many of the people who use it.

In interviews, Twitter users, content creators, and social media experts said that what was once a reliable news source for them now requires a more skeptical eye. Some said that the joyous source of spontaneity, community and humor had become more militant. Others said they believed Mr Musk had freed up the heavily censored environment.

“I really enjoyed the interaction between some of the people,” said Lauren Brody, 54, a human resources manager in the San Francisco Bay Area and a longtime Twitter user. “Some of it will seem very spontaneous and enjoyable, sometimes a little scary, but you’ll get to see different perspectives.”

Now “I have noticed a difference,” she added. “I have seen pictures that are not acceptable and a little scary. I try not to go down too many rabbit holes.”

What Twitter means to people changed after Mr Musk, who also runs Tesla and SpaceX, overhauled the service. They spent $44 billion with the aim of allowing more free speech on the platform and turning it into an “everything app” for conversations, payments, deliveries and more. They changed its name to X, loosened its content moderation rules, eliminated the jobs of about 80 percent of its 7,500 employees, and changed its authentication practices.

People now visit sites less frequently, according to data collected by a digital intelligence firm similarweb, Traffic to X’s website has declined 14 percent over the past year, while the platform still ranks with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat as the sites and apps most visited by Americans.

X did not respond to a request for comment. At a company meeting on Thursday to celebrate the anniversary of the deal, Mr Musk said, “We are rapidly transforming the company from Twitter 1.0 to everything apps.” He said that X had about half a billion monthly users, according to audio heard by The New York Times.

This change has been particularly felt by users who have found community on Twitter. The platform was known for its subcultures, which based their nicknames on their unified interests: Black Twitter for pop culture, comedy, and activism; Weird Twitter for posts with crude jokes; K-pop Twitter for fans of the music genre.

Some communities have now dried up. Brian William Jones, 53, a professor of visual neuroscience at the University of Utah, used to chat with other academics on Twitter and pursue his hobby of photography. They found exciting scientific research shared with the hashtag #ICanHazPDF, and they used the site to organize meet-ups with other photographers.

“It’s a small world, and Twitter has made it even smaller in all the best ways,” he said.

But many people in Dr. Jones’ Twitter communities have left over the past year, complaining about misinformation and spam, he said. After becoming irritated by ads for items like marijuana gummies and noticing that conversations he used to enjoy had become quieter, he said, he also reduced his use of X.

Some users have attempted to preserve stories about their experiences People’s History of Twitter, a project by former Twitter employees and users to memorialize their time there. At an event in March for the project, topics included “Why do we need ‘the people’ history” and “Is the Twitter we depended on… gone?”

For others, Mr Musk has changed X for the better. Twitter’s former leaders were highly censorious, he said, and Mr. Musk has been refreshingly transparent by disclosing internal communications from the company’s former managers and allowing suspended accounts to return.

“I can’t say I agree with the people who were censored in the first place, but I’m incredibly hurt that it was allowed to happen,” said Peter Weiner, a technology writer in Baltimore. “I can think for myself. I don’t need a trust or a security council to do this.”

Some users said the biggest change is the loss of the serendipitous moments – including romantic connections and exciting discoveries – that Twitter once generated.

Asawin Suebsaeng, 35, a political reporter for Rolling Stone, met his wife on Twitter nearly a decade ago. “It really gives you an enhanced window into what kind of person you’re dealing with — what his interests are, his sense of humor, his preferences, what makes him angry,” he said.

Ted Hahn, a software developer in the San Francisco Bay Area, stopped for early-morning coffee in Grand Junction, Colorado, during a cross-country drive with his wife in 2015. He posted a picture on Twitter of a statue he had seen. in the city, and an anonymous user responded saying they recognized the location.

Mr. Hahn, now 41, said he had repeatedly messaged the stranger, who suggested he take a particular exit off the highway after reaching Moab, Utah. Mr Han and his wife eventually took the same route – and were stunned by the views of the Colorado River cutting through the bright orange canyon walls.

“That was one of those moments for me that was like, ‘Oh, this is exactly what Twitter is for,'” Mr. Han recalled.

Now, he said, he is wary of posting information about his whereabouts on X because of how heated the conversation has become on the platform.

“I’m less comfortable with what I share on Twitter and think twice,” he said.

ryan mack Contributed to the reporting.

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