Even if you've never used Twitter in your life, you've probably heard that there's been quite a lot of fuss about the social media platform over the past couple of weeks. In fact, it's been so chaotic that even regular tweeters might have lost track of what's going on.
Tesla owner Elon Musk's takeover got off to a rocky start before it had even begun. He reached an agreement to buy the platform, and then he tried to back out, claiming he'd been misled about the amount of spam on the platform. Finally, he went ahead and bought it anyway (after all, what's $44bn these days?), made himself CEO and fired everyone.
Things have continued in a similar vein with a chain of controversial moves and about-turns. It's entertaining to watch, and perhaps that's even what Musk is counting on. So in case you missed the spectacle, here's a recap of just how chaotic things have been, suitably illustrated with tweets from the platform itself (if you're looking for other ways to promote your work, see our guide to how to sell design online).
01. Musk buys Twitter for 'love of humanity'
Dear Twitter Advertisers pic.twitter.com/GMwHmInPASOctober 27, 2022
Musk touted his takeover as Twitter as a win for free speech. In fact, he said he bought the platform "to try to help humanity, whom I love". What people read that to mean was that Musk would reduce standards intended to avoid hate speech. Speculation that Donald Trump would be allowed back hasn't proved founded yet – he's still persevering with Truth, his own platform that so far has been about as successful as his attempt to launch his own brand of steaks.
02. Musk fires half of Twitter's staff
Musk acquired Twitter in late October and walked into Twitter HQ with a sink. Soon after, he’d send Cornet and more than 3,700 of his colleagues down the figurative drain. As Cornet imagined it, he portrayed it very well.#ElonMuskBuyTwitter #TwitterLayoffs #elonmusktwitter https://t.co/YCCmjJ5GSH pic.twitter.com/sMRJcCBBbnNovember 12, 2022
Promptly after taking over and declaring himself chief twit, Musk declared the company he spent $44bn on to be in financial dire straits. He immediately fired CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and policy head Vijaya Gadde and disbanded the company board, making himself the only director.
He then fired around half of Twitter's staff of 7,500, with major cuts reported in communications, human rights, machine learning, algorithmic ethics and trust and safety. Yoel Roth, head of the latter, said his department had lost 15% of its staff but attempted to offer some reassurance, insisting that front-line moderation staff had been least impacted.
03. The new CEO threatens to 'name and shame' advertisers who run scared
Thank you. A thermonuclear name & shame is exactly what will happen if this continues.November 4, 2022
With Musk's takeover already dogged by controversy, unsurprisingly major advertisers started to run. General Motors, Pfizer and United Airlines were among those who publicly confirmed they had suspended advertising. An unknown number of other brands have done the same without making it public, but Musk suggested there would be a "thermonuclear naming and shaming" if that continued. Right wing conspiracy theorists saw the exodus as part of a plot to curtail free speech. Everyone else saw it as sound brand protection in light of what Twitter might soon look like... and in fact what it did look like just days later...
04. Twitter lets people buy blue ticks
Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.November 1, 2022
Like on other platforms such as Instagram, a blue tick on Twitter has long meant that an account claiming to belong to a prominent person or organisation is really what it claims to be. It wasn't a failsafe system and there have always been questions about what makes a person important enough to merit verifying, but it generally did its job.
But on the hunt for new sources of revenue, Musk saw an opportunity to 'democratise' this... or rather capitalise it. Now anyone could have a blue tick – if they paid $8 a month for it. Twitter itself didn't foresee any problem with this, until...
05. People buy blue ticks
Can't imagine why all the advertisers are pulling out of Twitter lmao pic.twitter.com/pg55WXkxhSNovember 9, 2022
Genuine verified blue ticks remained on the platform as before, but now subscribers to 'Twitter Blue' got the same symbol on their accounts, verifying nothing more than the fact that they were paying $8 a month for the privilege. The only way to tell the difference was by clicking on the symbol, which brings up a message to clarify whether the account earned its tick for belonging to a genuine 'notable' person for having merely bought it.
Any UI designer could probably have come up with a solution that might have worked (a different symbol perhaps?), but presumably Twitter doesn't have any designers left. As it was, fake accounts sprang up for everything from famous athletes and world leaders to pharmaceuticals companies and arms manufacturers (but who could have predicted that?) And there was nobody about to step in quickly because everyone had been fired.
Why the assumption I am fake? https://t.co/az8yi4kpp5November 10, 2022
People and companies who bought blue ticks included a fake Donald Trump, James LeBron Lockheed Martin, Nintendo, Eli Lilly and more. After tweeting "I miss killing Iraqis," a verified George G Bush later tweeted that he'd be claiming a refund from his credit card company if his account got suspended within its first month. We assume he's now claiming that refund.
UPDATE—Just learned that Eli Lilly executives are raging and furious at losing $20 billion in market cap from this stunt with @TwitterBlue. It’s too bad they don’t see their own damn insulin price gouging as the actual problem. Karma @LillyPad, karma. pic.twitter.com/AzXRpMH8miNovember 11, 2022
You've now got new fake accounts spoofing the apology of the real account for the behavior of the other fake accounts. pic.twitter.com/xvgFQTn6ziNovember 11, 2022
i wonder why pic.twitter.com/CV3ifuWkxdNovember 11, 2022
Hit all-time high of active users todayNovember 11, 2022
Musk chipped in to say that he'd be making changes, keeping the things that worked and changing those that didn't. "Trying things out and putting out fires along the way is a very funny way to run a company. Could you imagine if he ran a car company too?" one person quipped. Which brings us to..
06. Fake Tesla account trolls Musk
Is he already blocked? Can't seem to find himNovember 11, 2022
Maybe the chaos was all intentional, part of a great strategy to attract more people to the platform to watch the show. As one person tweeted: "Making the joke costs $8. But watching a ridiculous beta test destroy a huge company: Priceless." But perhaps Musk decided it was enough when his own companies Tesla and SpaceX were trolled by imposters.
07. Twitter suspends paid-for blue checks
We’re adding a “Parody” subscript to clarifyNovember 11, 2022
Twitter's said that it's suspend awarding Twitter Blue ticks for now due to the number of imposters, but it doesn't seem that Musk's giving up on the plan. So far his suggestion for how he'll make it work is by adding 'a parody subscript' for accounts like the imposter above. Parody accounts that don't use it will be suspended... presumably after they've already posted enough malicious tweets for someone to notice. There's been no word yet on how Twitter intends to more quickly detect imposters or whether it will introduce identity verification.
08. Key exec reassures everyone... and then quits
Yesterday, two Twitter execs were moderating a Elon Q&AToday, they resigned pic.twitter.com/HdabUvvh2INovember 10, 2022
We're surprised there's anyone left at Twitter at all. Musk's own cuts have been followed by a raft of resignations. One of the most surprising is former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth, who had been a reassuring presence at Twitter amid all the chaos. On Wednesday, he moderated a Q&A with Musk designed to reassure advertisers. He quit the next day.
09. Musk says Twitter might go bankrupt
Wow. Elon Musk just told Twitter employees he’s not sure how much run rate the company has and “bankruptcy isn’t out of the question.”November 10, 2022
Amid such tumult, those left at Twitter might hope for some sign of reassurance from its CEO. A rousing speech to pull people together. Instead, Musk warned staff on Thursday there would be no more remote working and that Twitter might go bankrupt.
He reportedly warned that the company may lose billions of dollars next year, with the platform currently losing $4m a day, mainly because of advertiser boycotts. Twitter already has $13bn of debt after Musk's takeover wither interest payments of almost $1.2bn exceeding Twitter's $1.1bn cash flow.
Blue-grey ticks are the new blue ticks... for some people... maybe
also for anyone else eye-twitching along at home too, yes, the second check *is* a slight shade of blue. IT'S NOT EVEN NOT A BLUE CHECK pic.twitter.com/n71BxfK388November 11, 2022
The latest is that with blue ticks now meaningless, Twitter has brought in grey ticks accompanied by the word 'official' to do what blue ticks used to do. At least it has for some people – it seems mainly big brands and government bodies. The official Twitter Support account that made the announcement had one... and then it didn't. So maybe it isn't the official Twitter Support account after all. Maybe the announcement isn't official either. If it is, those who paid for a blue badge want to know how much a blue-grey badge costs.
You're paying to be a loser who paid for twitter lol pic.twitter.com/9Vm3a5FArNNovember 12, 2022
We think the obvious solution is a whole system of Twitter badges like the Scouts have. The UI would look beautiful. Too much? If you've had enough and you're looking for a different platform, see our guide to Twitter alternatives.