On Wednesday morning, Twitter CEO Elon Musk locked his Twitter account, telling users, “Made my account private until tomorrow morning to test whether you see my private tweets more than my public ones.”
Since then, Twitter users have poked fun at Musk for seemingly not knowing how the platform works—or at least not having Twitter engineers available who can explain it to him. One account with nearly 70,000 followers joked that Musk needed to run “a middle schooler’s idea of an experiment to figure out how the company’s algorithm works because he fired anyone who could have possibly explained it to him.” Back in November, Musk had to start recruiting engineers after mass layoffs and Twitter’s changing workplace benefits led many engineers to exit Twitter, seemingly threatening to destabilize the platform and trigger malfunctions.
genuinely hilarious that he spent 44 billion dollars on a company, but still needs to run a middle schooler’s idea of an experiment to figure out how the company’s algorithm works because he fired anyone who could have possibly explained it to him pic.twitter.com/LhcQSVerfx
— KnowNothing (@KnowNothingTV) February 1, 2023
Musk will apparently be spending the rest of today testing out this experiment, seemingly in response to conservative users like LibsofTikTok and Ben Shapiro, who reported running their own tests to prove that locked accounts generate more views than public accounts.
Before now, the Twitter CEO—who says he purchased the platform to promote free speech, eliminate echo chambers, and open up more dialog in Twitter’s “town square”—would likely be the last person Twitter users would expect to lock his own account. Musk is very active on the platform, and his typically public tweets seem to reach audiences beyond his own following.
Yesterday, a New York Times report analyzed 20,000 Musk tweets posted within the last five years to assess how Musk uses the platform and explore whether Musk is meeting his own professed goal of boosting diverse viewpoints on the platform.
That analysis found that Musk mostly follows accounts run by men and organizations tied to his own businesses, while he posts “all hours of the day, most days of the week.” Increasingly, Musk has dedicated more time to responding to followers who directly mention him in tweets that praise him. With 128 million followers, even Musk’s deleted tweets are widely viewed across the platform, but with this experiment, he is apparently questioning whether his platform is limiting views of his own tweets.
As it stands, Twitter’s popularity as a platform is mainly due to its almost unparalleled ability to boost messaging from even the most obscure accounts. Before Musk took over, Twitter was famous for launching “main characters,” with thousands or even millions of users on the platform joining hot discussions of viral tweets. Lately, Musk himself has emerged as Twitter’s most popular and enduring main character, with his tweets being almost unavoidable on the platform.
Before launching his test today, Musk’s confidence in Twitter seemed high. He recently sought to prove the power of his platform by adding new public metrics with a view count that shows the true reach of tweets. It seems conservative users began using the view count to track whether their tweets had broader reach when generated from locked accounts compared to public accounts—theorizing that their followers were more likely to see their tweets from locked accounts than public accounts.
EU planning Twitter “stress test”
While Musk attempts to run his own test of the reported issue with tweet views, he has also seemingly entered into crunch time, promising that Twitter will comply with the stringent social media rules of the European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) within the next few months, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Before Musk locked his account, he tweeted that the EU’s “goals of transparency, accountability & accuracy of information are aligned” with Twitter’s goals, noting that Community Notes would help ensure DSA compliance by stopping misinformation from spreading on the platform.
EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said he would be monitoring Twitter’s compliance closely and would be running a “stress test” on Twitter in the coming weeks to identify ways in which Twitter is not currently in compliance with DSA requirements to block illegal content. That test could result in eventual fines or restrictions on Twitter if the company doesn’t prioritize timely compliance.
The Journal noted that EU officials remain concerned that Twitter’s mass layoffs, which have impacted its engineering and trust and safety teams, could make it harder for the platform to quickly comply with EU directives. Musk’s apparent inability to consult with engineers on user reports of a malfunction suggests those concerns may be valid.
Twitter could not be reached for comment, as its communications office is reportedly still closed under Musk, despite his promises to provide more transparency about how the platform functions.