22 Sep 2023

Thank U, neXt: Another PR week to forget for social media’s pantomime villain

Written by Joe Jordan, Senior Account Executive at Spreckley

Since Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover back in October 2022, X (formerly known as Twitter) has suffered one setback after another. From the instant dismissal of the bulk of the workforce to a surprising and ultimately pointless rebrand, to say it’s been a rocky journey so far for Tesla’s head honcho would be an understatement.

And in an 11-month period with more than its fair share of bad weeks, the last 7 days have been particularly turbulent for social media’s most controversial upstart. First Musk announced he was considering introducing a monthly subscription fee for the platform, then X received a one out of 21 score on the Climate of Misinformation report by Climate Action Against Disinformation – the lowest ranking out of social media’s top five.

If the second incident was a result of structural issues with policy and the X algorithm, the first misstep could surely have been handled with more transparency and finesse to quieten the baying mob by a few decibels, if not silence them altogether.

We’re all cynics at heart
Charging all X users was always going to be an unpopular decision, but considering it’s common knowledge that the platform has lost almost half of its advertising revenue since Musk took the reins, it has hardly come as a surprise.

However, instead of owning up to the fact that X could do with a few extra quid to keep the lights on in HQ for the next few months, Musk claimed that this latest announcement was an attempt to fight back against the swarm of bots plaguing the company and its users.

“If somebody even has to pay a few dollars for something, some minor amount, the effective cost to bots is very high,” said X’s CEO. While there may be an element of truth to this claim, to completely ignore financial upside of a membership-based operating model has proven to be a communications blunder, alienating yet more people.

“Rest in peace, X”, wrote one user. “The day Twitter/X asks for money to log in is the day Twitter is over for me,” wrote another.

Now, the decision itself may have been the final nail in X’s coffin regardless of how it was handled, but the flimsy justification and failure to acknowledge the potential perks mean that, even if Musk pulls a U-turns, the X community is unlikely to forget about it in a hurry.

As a society we have a tendency to see the worst in people, particularly when they’ve done little to ingratiate themselves with the wider population. As a result, what was interpreted as an attempt to hoodwink X users out of their hard-earned cash could be a scandal too far for our once beloved Twitter.

Do as I say not as I do
X’s jaw-droppingly low score on the Climate Misinformation report is particularly bad given Musk made his billions as the head of an electric vehicles manufacturer. He may have taken over Twitter with the promise of uncensored and unvetted speech, but the rating is a damning indictment that can’t have been part of the plan.

The paltry rank was caused by a failure to adhere to practically all of Climate Action Against Disinformation’s misinformation criteria, including the availability of information on climate science and clear directives on stopping the spread of disinformation.

This unwanted accolade is yet another reputational hit for X, and Musk has already set his stall out to further deregulate the platform, so it’s not something that can be reversed without an ideological re-think.

As a disastrous week draws to a close, how many more punches can Musk and his minions absorb before one lands a knockout blow?