You may judge it unhealthy or bad luck but here is the sad truth: editorial staffs are used to preparing obituaries of personalities who are likely to leave us in the coming months. Stop at nothing for more transparency, 20 minutes decided to reveal some of the obituaries we’ve put on the fridge for 2023. Today, we’re revealing Twitter’s obituary.
For eight weeks, not a day went by without a nail being driven into the company’s coffin with the blue bird. Ever since eccentric billionaire Elon Musk took it over, the platform has pretty much had two feet (or legs) in the grave. Between the mass layoffs, the flight of advertisers, the return of suspended accounts and the series hiccups, we’re not giving Twitter much skin in the coming months. However, for twenty years, the microblogging social network has become one of the important tools in terms of information and communication.
A user behind the hashtag
Go back eighteen years. The year is 2005. Evan Williams, Noah Glass and Biz Stone are the leaders of Odeo, a podcasting start-up. But faced with the arrival of a new service from Apple, the future of the company is bleak. The three founders then ask their employees to find other ideas to develop.
Jack Dorsey, web designer of the start-up at the time, submitted the idea of a communication platform where we would post our messages via SMS. Initially, the site was called “Twttr”, the word “Twitter”, which means “twitter”, without the vowels. Messages are limited to 140 characters to match the maximum length of an SMS. On March 21, 2006, Jack Dorsey posted the very first tweet in history: “Just set up my twttr”.
Five months later, on July 13, 2006, the site was officially opened to the general public. If the initial idea was to allow users to share small moments of life with their loved ones, the site quickly transformed into a platform for commenting on current events, discussing with others about common topics and following personalities. In August 2006, when an earthquake shook San Francisco, Twitter took on a different dimension. Users understand that the platform can also be used to disseminate information almost instantly.
A year later, it was a user of the social network who whispered the idea of what would become Twitter’s trademark: the hashtag – or “hashtag” in French. On August 23, 2007, Chris Messina offered his community to use it in a group discussion on the same topic.
In 2009, Twitter formalized the function, each term preceding the hashtag became a hyperlink to easily find the same theme.
From social network to information channel
From the same year, some events unofficially set up Twitter as a channel for disseminating information. On January 15, 2009, a plane made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. A photo of the evacuation of passengers was posted on Twitter minutes after the tragedy by a user on a nearby ferry. As a result, the image circulates on the platform even before appearing in traditional media.
In June 2009, to contest the outcome of the presidential election in Iran, demonstrators used Twitter to communicate and create the “Green Movement”, also nicknamed the “Twitter Revolution”, due to the primordial importance of the social network in the world. organization of events. In 2012, the tool was again used by protesters during the Arab Spring.
On November 7, 2013, the social network opened a new chapter in its development by joining the closed circle of listed companies. If, in the first days, its value increases, in the following months, the balance is not so bright. The number of monthly users is increasing very slowly, causing dissatisfaction among shareholders and the markets in general. Financially, Twitter is sinking. The losses amounted to more than 500 million dollars. Worse, in August 2015, the stock price fell back to its original price. Rumors of the sale of the network begin to spread.
It took three years for Twitter to recover. It was only in February 2018 that the social network announced its first quarterly net income. Even if the number of users does not increase, the share price, it will fly. In the same year, the platform generalized the practice of “thread”, a thread of messages that allows you to build a longer statement. He also decided to increase the size of posts, increasing the limit from 140 to 280 characters.
Presidents, political parties, associations, NGOs, collectives… In a few years, Twitter has become an indispensable tool, even changing the strategy of political communication. Like Donald Trump who tweeted more than 26,000 times during his term, transforming the social network into a platform for political announcements. But with too much play on Twitter, the former president burned his wings. On January 8, 2021, two days after his supporters took over the Capitol and delayed the counting of votes for the presidential election, Twitter decided to permanently ban Donald Trump’s account.
Descent into hell
If you had to date the start of Twitter’s real descent into hell, it was a few months ago. We are October 27, 2022 and Elon Musk has offered the social network for 44 billion dollars. A week after his takeover, the billionaire purged the workforce and fired half of the employees, or about 3,500 people, including almost all of the moderation team. A few days later, he dissolved the social network’s trust and security council, which brought together independent researchers and human rights activists. The consequences are almost immediate: since the arrival of Elon Musk, hateful and discriminatory content (racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, etc.) has not stopped increasing.
Promoting total freedom of expression, the Tesla boss also decided to reinstate accounts banned by former Twitter teams, including Donald Trump’s. But this freedom, Elon Musk does not give it to everyone. He did not hesitate to suspend several accounts of journalists writing about him, as well as an automated account following his private jet. To bail out the coffers of the social network, which never makes money, Elon Musk is launching a paid certification. But this new feature gives rise to a lot of identity theft and the spread of misinformation. Temporarily suspended, the scheme was relaunched a few weeks later.
It’s too late, the damage is done. With his decisions, Elon Musk is losing the trust of some of the advertisers who are leaving. A dramatic situation when you know that the platform gets almost 90% of its revenue from advertising. “The financial collapse is the biggest risk at the moment for Twitter”, said Emmanuelle Patry, founder of the Social Media Lab, in 20 minutes.
To make matters worse, Elon Musk decided to play the future of the platform with polls. After one of the reinstatements of suspended accounts, including Donald Trump’s account, he asked users if he should leave the leader of the group. And 57% of them said they wanted him gone.
Already in November, Virginie Clève, digital strategy consultant interviewed by 20 minutesis not very optimistic about the longevity of the blue bird company: “Does the fact that Elon Musk runs Twitter sign his death warrant? It is possible. On December 20, the billionaire confirmed his retirement from Twitter once he finds “someone crazy enough” to succeed him. It remains to be seen if the new CEO will be able to resuscitate the company with the blue bird. Or if he will let it fly away with the angels.