Used by politicians, activists and journalists to share news and opinion, Twitter itself has become the headline as new owner Elon Musk attempts to overhaul the social media platform, often with chaotic results.
From demanding employees pick between being "extremely hardcore" or losing their jobs, to asking engineers to fly in for in-person meetings on what their codes have "achieved", Elon Musk’s radical changes have caused hundreds of Twitter staff to quit.
Some estimates say at least 1,200 full-time employees resigned on Thursday, which comes after Twitter’s mass layoffs reduced its full-time employee base to about 3,700 from an estimated 7,500 before the shake-up.
El Gabriele joined Twitter over 13 years ago as a security analyst and was till recently serving as a senior security engineer. He spoke to TRT World about his decision to leave the company.
"For the last 7.5 years, I led a team of highly talented engineers. We worked on multiple micro and macro projects involving the overall security risk of the software, closing backdoors and security attacks," Gabriele says.
As a senior, Gabriele was also part of the hiring process for members of his team.
"When we were hiring staff, we did it with the best intention to recruit the best people to help us build a better and stronger Twitter. But after Elon joined, that mentality changed significantly," he says.
"We lost many staff in my area and suddenly we went from having teams figuring out where risk lies and others solving them to a small group of people doing both. So suddenly we had to cut corners and people started leaving."
Then, senior engineers were no longer involved in the recruitment process, "so we were bringing in new staff with limited experience and knowledge, sometimes even after only completing online courses."
His decision to leave coincided with a weekend exodus that filled Twitter timelines with ‘gun and badge’ shots (laptops and ID cards) and farewell messages from employees under the hashtag #lovewhereyouworked. The exodus had left many wondering if this was the end of the popular microblogging platform.
Many employees who posted goodbyes said they had been at the platform for well over eight years, which critics point out will cause a major gap in Twitter’s arsenal with so much institutional knowledge being drained out of the company.
However, come Monday, Twitter was still up and running. And all, it seemed, was well.
But with such a major cut in its workforce and continued changes in policy, many are curious what the future holds for the blue bird.
Deciding to join @Twitter 7.5 years ago was one of the easiest decisions ever made. Deciding to leave today was 100% the opposite. I will miss the people, the fun, the love, warmth and kindness within and surrounding this company. Thank you, Tweeps. #LoveWhereYouWorked — Jess DeBolt Berman (@jessdebolt) November 17, 2022
‘News doesn't break, it tweets’
Sean Gardner is a social media influencer and digital marketer with two decades of experience in the industry, from MySpace and Blackplanet in the early 2000s to Facebook and LinkedIn today.
Working with multinational corporations around the world, Gardner has seen the rise and fall of social media platforms over the years and recently he’s been following the news about Twitter closely.
"Through the years, Twitter has become an important tool for digital diplomacy between countries and politicians; for the evolution of virtual and real-world philanthropy and for getting news, conferences and events trending," Gardener tells TRT World.
"That doesn't have to change. But yes, I believe changes are coming," he says of the platform where he got his start.
One such change will be from the "almost daily, incendiary headlines", which are not a good look for Twitter’s advertisers and provide an opening for rivals like Instagram and Mastodon to grow stronger, Gardner cautions.
"There is an old saying, ‘The news doesn't break; it tweets’. That is literally being turned on its head because the big news in tech is about Twitter itself," Gardner adds.
Former security engineer Gabriele agrees, saying he believes the biggest challenge Twitter will face is retaining its user base, including advertisers, in the short term.
"If fewer engineers are available to troubleshoot and fix bugs and breaches, users will not stick around and it would be difficult and costly to bring them back," Gabriele says.
"If a website is untrustworthy, users may stop visiting it. Further endangering Twitter's financial stability, advertisers could start to doubt that the promotions they are paying for will reach the intended audience," Gabriele adds.
Matt Navarra, an industry analyst with around 15 years of experience, also agrees the "immediate problem the platform faces is one of revenue".
"Advertisers are not keen and increasingly not keen to spend money on the platform because of brand safety concerns," Navarra tells TRT World.
"This shift will also alter the type of content that users will see in their feed as the type of advertisers changes".
However, Lina Duque, a social media strategist who’s helped dozens of executives and academics use platforms strategically to amplify their brands, argues this form of bad press may actually serve Twitter’s cause.
"I think Twitterverse has been fretting so much about what Elon Musk might tweet or do next, and that has renewed Twitter users’ interests in the platform," Duque tells TRT World.
According to Musk, Twitter hit an all-time high in usage a few days ago at a time when ironically the hashtag #RIPTwitter was trending.
"Lots of people said their goodbyes and wrote supposedly their last tweets that night yet here we are again. So the future of Twitter is still unpredictable," Duque says. "Twitter has been evolving over the years so it is expected to continue to change as the community changes."
Twitter is ALIVE— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2022
Buckling under usage strain
In just the first three weeks that Musk has been Twitter's owner, he has found several ways to cause chaos. Ranging from not allowing remote work to firing previous CEO and other senior leaders, Musk came into the platform guns blazing.
Musk’s vision for Twitter is to eliminate spam bots, make the content algorithms publicly available and stop the platform from becoming an echo chamber for hate and division.
He has preached free speech for the platform but also insisted that content moderation remains a priority for Twitter and that he would create a council dedicated to the task.
However, with a smaller number of people available to him, even minor issues may pose much bigger challenges. His changes are likely "to lead to slower responses to fix problems" as well as "bugs and frustration at the platform starting to creep in," Navarra warns.
"And, of course, there’s a far greater risk that the platform could buckle under the strain of high usage from the World Cup, which is currently taking place," Navarra says.
Navarra, who was a digital communication adviser to the UK government and is currently a freelance social media consultant and industry analyst, says the influx of activity could even knock Twitter offline.
Gabriele confirmed this concern, cautioning "Twitter is a complex software which requires constant upkeep and maintenance."
"I can't begin to explain how sections of software that were written years ago still need constant patches to fix breaches. It's something many people don't understand," Gabriele says. "Especially when you have integrations with other apps such as Gmail login which releases constant updates that we have to upkeep."
Gabriele says alongside significant events such as the World Cup that cause abrupt spikes in traffic and further strain its infrastructure, Twitter may also struggle to address the physical security of its data centres and requests from foreign governments to remove information.
"And this is further aggravated if what Elon is saying is true i.e. Twitter reaching all-time highs," Gabriele says.
So what can you, a Twitter user, do?
Twitter exit strategy— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) November 18, 2022
consider all options https://t.co/I4LYSKdlVb
‘Don’t put all eggs in one basket’
If people remain on Twitter, what they knew about the platform and what people expected of it in the past “is not going to be the same going forwards,” Navarra warns.
"I think Twitter 1.0, the original Twitter as we know it, is pretty much dead and now we’re moving through a very tricky messy phase of Elon Musk bringing us what Twitter 2.0 is going to be, whatever that might be," Navarra says.
Duque says while "Twitter is still a valuable networking tool…don’t put all your social media eggs in one basket. Diversify your social media efforts the way you would your investments."
"Build a well-thought-out social media profile on at least three platforms so if one shuts down, you have a decent presence on two channels and can engage with your community there," she says.