Elon Musk's year-long quest to destroy Twitter is the most successful inside job in tech history

Elon Musk
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The call's coming from inside the house. It's a terrifying line from an equally terrifying 1979 horror movie. It's also the only way to describe the horrors that have befallen Twitter (now X) since Elon Musk took over almost a year ago.

Musk walked into Twitter on October 26, 2022, carrying a sink not full of promises but a literal sink filled with nothing but the void of wild speculation. A day later I wrote about how I worried that Twitter might not survive Elon Musk. In a way, I was 100% correct. Twitter no longer exists, long live "X".

The iconic brand name change is emblematic of the slipshod and haphazard way in which Musk implements his non-strategy. The platform changes not just on a whim, but always on Musk's whim.

Two of X's most recent changes are near-perfect examples. First, there's now a way to ensure that only verified accounts can reply to a tweet (yes, they are still called "tweets" for now). This is a typical anti-community move, one that has less to do with "bot" mitigation, as Musk claims, and more about ongoing efforts to cowpath everyone into paying for X subscriptions

The iconic brand name change is emblematic of the slipshod and haphazard way in which Musk implements his non-strategy. The platform changes not just on a whim, but always on Musk's whim.

For what it's worth, verified accounts are necessarily a measure of identity truth. I get verified bot replies on accounts and some of the replies I get from verified trolls might as well be bots, for all the value they add to the platform.

Musk's other big recent change was to strip away visible links from shared content. Now tweets feature the text and an image. There's no indication that clicking on the image will take you to an article. It's likely destroying engagement and is certainly hurting the mainstream media Musk hates. It could be hurting advertisers and promoted tweets that hope to engage people with classic blue links. Musk's reason for doing it? He didn't like how the links looked. A business strategy like this is the equivalent of a busy signal.

Sometimes I like to imagine Musk as a tunneler, digging under the foundation of his own home in a quest to find some buried treasure. He operates as if all former Twitter leadership misunderstood the platform they built (not to mention longtime users whom he disenfranchised by stripping away earned verification) and that only he can divine its true purpose. And so he digs away, destabilizing the foundation to the point of destruction.

X is still standing but nothing about it feels stable or healthy, and if X implements a paywall for all users, the last termite-infested support beam might give way, as well.

Hate can still be found with relative ease, often appearing alongside wholesome ads (until advertisers walk away and the ads disappear).

The new CEO Lina Yaccarino is little more than a mouthpiece or front for Musk's wishes. Changes still happen without her preparing X users or advertised partners and she is left to explain in misguided Tweets or disastrous stage appearances.

Recently, I asked X users if they thought the platform would survive into next year. Not even half of the respondents in my unscientific poll believe it will. More than a quarter checked "WTF is X?"

And that's part of it, isn't it? For all Twitter's foibles – and there were many – I think we all understood what Twitter was for and how it might best be used. Musk, though, wants no part of that past. He has loftier aspirations for the flailing platform. X is nothing and everything. Musk wants it to be, if anything, a broadcast network for the world. See how hard he pushes full-length and live video.

To be fair, he's had some success there but the numbers are clearly nowhere near YouTube numbers and the content is not organized in a way where anyone could peruse what is obviously a growing library of pre-recorded content.

More broadly speaking, X has a fundamental and growing engagement problem. Tweets on the platform, unless you are among Musk's chosen friends, fans, or people Musk admires, fizzle out almost immediately. Pay-to-play is not appealing to the masses, which makes this a much more narrowly focused, controlled circulation platform.

It also just doesn't feel good to Tweet in the way it used to. There is almost no joy in sharing on the platform. Whatever innocence remained is long gone and whatever inclusiveness was growing is now being wiped away by an angry horde who are only pleased if you bow at the knees of their lord and savior, Elon Musk.

It's been an awful year on X (nee Twitter) and I really wish Elon Musk would hang up the phone.

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Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.