You can judge it unhealthy or bad luck, but here’s the sad truth: the editorial team is used to preparing obituaries of personalities who are likely to leave us in the coming months. Stopping at nothing for more transparency, 20 minutes we’ve decided to reveal some of the obituaries we have in store for 2023. Today, we reveal the Twitter obituary.
For eight weeks, not a day went by without a nail being driven into the firm’s coffin with the bluebird. Since its acquisition by capricious billionaire Elon Musk, the platform has almost had both feet (or legs) in the grave. Between the mass layoffs, advertiser flight, the return of suspended accounts, and the serial hiccups, we don’t give Twitter much skin in the coming months. However, in twenty years, the microblogging social network has become one of the essential 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 bosses of Odeo, a podcast start-up. But with the arrival of Apple’s new service, the company’s future darkens. The three founders then ask their employees to find other ideas to develop.
Jack Dorsey, the start-up’s web designer at the time, presents the idea of a communication platform where we would post our SMS messages. 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 first ever tweet: “Just setting up my twttr”.
Five months later, on July 13, 2006, the site was officially opened to the general public. If the first idea was to allow users to share small moments of life with their loved ones, the site quickly became a platform to comment on current events, discuss common topics with others and follow personalities. In August 2006, when an earthquake shook San Francisco, Twitter took on another 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 to group conversations on the same topic.
In 2009, Twitter formalized the functionality, each term preceded by the hashtag even becoming a hyperlink to easily find the same topic.
From social network to information channel
From the same year, some events unofficially configured 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 a few minutes after the tragedy by a user on a nearby ferry. As a result, the photo circulates on the platform long before it appears in traditional media.
In June 2009, to contest the result of the presidential election in Iran, protesters use Twitter to coordinate and create the “Green Movement”, also nicknamed the “Twitter Revolution”, due to the primordial importance of the social network in the world. events. In 2012, the tool will again be massively 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 soars, in the following months the balance is much less radiant. The number of monthly users is increasing very slowly, causing dissatisfaction among shareholders and markets in general. Financially, Twitter is sinking. Losses reach more than 500 million dollars. Even worse, in August 2015, the stock price dropped below its original price. The rumor of the sale of the network begins to circulate.
Twitter will take three years to recover. It wasn’t until February 2018 that the social network announced its first quarterly net income. Even if the number of users does not increase, the share price soars. In the same year, the platform generalized the practice of the “thread”, a thread of messages that allows the development of a longer statement. She also decided to increase the length of posts, increasing the limit from 140 to 280 characters.
Presidents, political parties, associations, NGOs, collectives… In just a few years, Twitter has become an indispensable tool, even revolutionizing the strategy of political communication. Like Donald Trump, who tweeted more than 26,000 times during his term, turning the social network into a platform for political ads. But wanting to play too much with Twitter, the former president burned his wings. On January 8, 2021, two days after his supporters took over the Capitol and stopped counting votes for the presidential election, Twitter made the decision to permanently ban Donald Trump’s account.
descent into hell
If you have to date the beginning of Twitter’s real descent into hell, it was a few months ago. It’s October 27, 2022 and Elon Musk has just offered the social network for $44 billion. A week after his acquisition, the billionaire is cleaning up the workforce and laying off half of the employees, or almost 3,500 people, including almost all of the moderation teams. A few days later, he dissolved the social network’s trust and safety 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.
Defending complete freedom of expression, the head of Tesla also decides to restore accounts banned by former Twitter teams, including that of Donald Trump. But this freedom, Elon Musk does not grant it to everyone. He doesn’t hesitate to suspend several accounts of journalists who write about him, as well as an automatic account that accompanies his private jet. To help the coffers of the social network, which has never made a profit, Elon Musk is launching a paid certification. But this novelty gives rise to many identity thefts and dissemination of false information. Temporarily suspended, the scheme was relaunched a few weeks later.
Too late, the damage is done. With his decisions, Elon Musk is losing the trust of some of the advertisers who are withdrawing. A dramatic situation when you know that the platform gets almost 90% of its revenue from advertising. “Financial collapse is the biggest risk of the moment for Twitter”, confided Emmanuelle Patry, founder of the Social Media Lab, to the 20 minutes.
To make matters worse, Elon Musk decided to gamble the future of the platform with surveys. After reinstating suspended accounts, including Donald Trump’s account, he asked users if he should step down as head of the group. And 57% of them said they wanted him gone.
In November, Virginie Clève, a digital strategy consultant interviewed by 20 minutes, was not very optimistic about the longevity of the blue bird company: “Does Elon Musk running Twitter signify his death warrant? It’s possible. On December 20, the billionaire confirmed his retirement from Twitter by finding “someone crazy enough” to succeed him. It remains to be seen whether this new CEO will be able to resurrect the company with the bluebird. Or if he’ll let it fly to the angels.