Twitter: What's changed in the year since Elon Musk took over

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Elon Musk promised massive changes in the lead-up to his $44 billion Twitter acquisition last October.

In a flurry of tweets, the entrepreneur prophesied Twitter as a bastion of free speech, where you'd also be able to order cheeky takeaways and make payments.

One year later, Mr Musk hasn’t fully delivered on those lofty promises. But, one thing’s for sure: he has left an indelible mark on the platform. Under his purview, Twitter shed its iconic brand, doubled down on subscriptions, and pushed users toward recommended content.

Yet despite all the updates, Twitter’s raison d'être is still the same. The platform remains a place to quickly share news and follow live events. While on the surface Twitter may look virtually identical to its former self, Mr Musk’s behind-the-scenes modifications have curtailed what free users can do, both on and off the platform.

The Standard reached out to X’s press email, and received the following automated response: “Busy now, please check back later.”

So what is Twitter now, and how has it transformed in the past year?

X marks the spot

Twitter is no longer Twitter - at least not in name. The biggest cosmetic change to the company came in late July when Mr Musk announced it would henceforth be known as X.

Bemused users were soon greeted with a new logo on the web and on their phones; the instantly recognisable bird icon replaced with an X insignia that was originally suggested by Twitter user Sawyer Merritt. Much of the lingo synonymous with Twitter, and digested into online vernacular, was swapped for more utilitarian terms. Tweets and retweets suddenly became posts and reposts.

However, the abrupt rebrand didn’t go off without a hitch. Police intervened when the Twitter logo was being stripped from the company's San Francisco headquarters, and neighbours complained about a lit-up X icon atop Twitter HQ keeping them up at night.

Now that the dust has settled on the rebrand, the big question is whether it was a success. If you still refer to X as Twitter, you have your answer.

Paying for Twitter

Soon after taking the reins, Mr Musk overhauled Twitter’s subscription plan in a bid to get users paying for the service. For £9.60 per month, you could purchase the platform’s coveted blue verification badge, and boost the visibility of your tweets in the process. As part of the change, the emblem was stripped from high-profile users who had been granted it by Twitter’s old guard.

Chaos ensued as some celebs and journalists refused to fork out for a subscription, and impersonators began masquerading as real businesses. Twitter was even forced to initially halt the subscription programme to iron out the kinks.

Since then, Mr Musk has tried to spur more users to pay for Twitter by locking formerly free features behind a paywall. These days, you can’t message people who don’t follow you without a subscription - a change that makes it harder to network on the platform. Nor can you use Tweetdeck (now dubbed X Pro) to manage your tweets and timeline.

In what could turn out to be the biggest blow for free users, Twitter has started to charge new users a small fee to interact with others in New Zealand and the Philippines. More subscription tiers are also in the offing, including an option to remove ads altogether.

The home feed

What people see on Twitter has significantly changed since Mr Musk took over. In January, the platform began showing users a feed with suggested content and topics by default.

Theoretically, that means users now have more chances of seeing posts they don’t like. There were even allegations that Mr Musk had told staff to boost his own tweets over others'. Weeks after those accusations surfaced, the billionaire became the most followed person on Twitter.

When the new “For You” feed was introduced, some accused Twitter of copying TikTok, which is known for its scarily intuitive algorithm that quickly learns what users like. Mr Musk himself has talked about making video a more prominent part of the platform. He has also described Twitter as a “digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated.”

Previously, users could choose to only see tweets from people they follow. Now, Twitter reverts to the For You feed every time you close and re-open the app or website.

Content moderation

The way in which Twitter polices what is shared on its platform has come under intense scrutiny this year.

Mr Musk’s policies have included restoring problematic accounts that were previously banned (including that of one Donald Trump), gutting Twitter’s content moderation team to save money, and disbanding an advisory group designed to address hate speech and other problems.

In their place, Twitter has leaned heavily on voluntary fact-checkers who leave Community Notes under dubious posts.

Allowing people to purchase a verified badge - and thereby rank higher on feeds and replies - has also made it trickier to distinguish real content from fake news. Throw in the recent boom in AI-generated images and deepfake videos and things get even murkier for general users.

Twitter’s problems have come to a head of late with the EU launching an investigation into disinformation on the platform following the start of the Israel-Hamas war. Australia also recently fined X roughly £319,000 for failing to tackle child sexual abuse material. None of which bodes well for the company now that the UK is gearing up to implement stricter internet safety laws of its own.