Brandon Doerrer
Dec 21, 2023

2023: The year Twitter became X

A chronicle of how Elon Musk changed the course of the social media platform and its relationship with advertisers.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

2023 was a bumpy ride for social media platforms. 

TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified before Congress in March over the company’s ties to China and the ByteDance-owned app still faces the risk of a ban in Montana. Meta struggled to keep users on its newest platform Threads following a gangbuster debut in July and came under scrutiny for its handling of under-13s. And amid the rise of AI and geopolitical conflict, all social media giants have continued to struggle to keep misinformation off their platforms.

But no platform had a year quite like X, formerly Twitter. 

Following Elon Musk’s acquisition in October 2022, the company made changes at breakneck speeds—laying off seemingly entire departments, appointing a new CEO in Linda Yaccarino and struggling to halt the flow of media dollars moving out of the platform.

Below is a timeline of the year that Twitter became X.

Oct. 28, 2022

Musk acquired Twitter for $44 billion. The months preceding the deal’s finalization were expectedly rocky.

Musk first proposed buying Twitter on April 14. Twitter initially opposed the deal, then accepted it on April 25. 

Just four days later, Twitter sued Musk to force him to follow through on his offer. In a blow to Musk’s defense, his own texts — which were subpoenaed by Twitter and made public in court documents in late September — suggested he already knew of Twitter’s bot problem prior to putting forward his bid, among other juicy details.

A few weeks later, on Oct. 26, after months of will-they-won’t-they, Musk accepted defeat and brought everything, including the kitchen sink, to Twitter HQ and declared himself Chief Twit.

Nov. 4, 2022

Twitter laid off 4,000 employees, more than half of its workforce, including a huge portion of its communications team and 15% of its trust and safety group responsible for content moderation. Enter the poop emoji autoreply for journalists.

It didn’t take long for advertisers to pull back from the platform, as brands such as Volkswagen and REI announced that they’d begun pausing spend following recommendations from anti-hate groups that feared an uptick in misinformation and hate speech under Musk’s reign. 

Ad-tracking platform MediaRadar found that advertisers began dropping off as early as May, not long after Musk’s proposed acquisition.

On Nov. 7, media buyers told Campaign US that pulling back on Twitter hardly affects their business, as they don’t spend as much on the platform as they do with other social media companies or get as strong returns on their investments.

Nov. 8, 2022

Musk attempted to woo advertisers back by detailing his vision for the platform to more than 100,000 listeners, including many marketers, in a virtual town hall alongside Yoel Roth, head of trust and safety. Musk also laid out his plan for a subscription model.

Nov. 9, 2022

Twitter launched Twitter Blue and locked verification badges behind an $8 monthly subscription. Responding to criticism about the initial suggested price of $20, Musk posted, “We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers.”

Soon after, imposter brand accounts began popping up with verified checkmarks next to their names. One fake account verified the handle AppleTVPIus, which replaced the lowercase ‘L’ in the real account with a capitalized ‘i.’ 

A fake account impersonating pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly posted “We are excited to announce insulin is free now,” causing major panic within the corporation.

The rollout of Twitter Blue was delayed as a result.

Musk also sent his first internal email warning employees that tough times are to come.

Nov. 10, 2022

Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, resigned just two days after co-hosting a town hall for advertisers.

Nov. 11, 2022

Omnicom followed IPG’s lead in recommending that clients pause spend on Twitter due to brand safety risks.

Nov. 16, 2022

Musk announced that he will find a new leader for Twitter.

Shortly after, he also told employees that they had two options: work hard or leave. Many chose the latter, prompting offices to shut down.

Musk also began reinstating several right-wing accounts, including Jordan Peterson and The Babylon Bee.

Dec. 12, 2022

Twitter Blue finally made its debut, but brands told Campaign US that they weren't interested in paying for the service.

Jan. 25, 2023

Twitter made an effort to rekindle its relationship with advertisers by rolling out a brand safety and suitability feature that allows them to monitor the Tweets their ads appear alongside. The move followed a 55% and 71% ad revenue drop in November and December 2022, respectively, compared to the year prior, according to data from Standard Media Index.

However, Twitter showed some signs of life in Q4 2022, as the number of advertisers on the platform rose back to near pre-acquisition levels.

Feb. 26, 2023

After already gutting nearly three-quarters of Twitter’s workforce since October, another 200 employees got the boot as part of Musk’s aggressive cost-cutting agenda. 

As of February, Twitter was operating with roughly 1,800 staff — down from 7,500 when Musk took over. 

Esther Crawford, a key architect of Twitter’s Blue subscription service, was among those laid off. She’s well known for a photo that quickly became an emblem of Musk’s new broom, showing her sleeping on the floor of Twitter’s office. At the time, Crawford tweeted that “doing hard things requires sacrifice.”

March 15, 2023

A California court filing revealed that Twitter had been merged into a new company called X Corp. Up to this point, was a payments company that Musk had founded and, in 2000, merged with Confinity, which changed its name to PayPal in 2001.

Musk had been vocal about his interest in creating an “everything app” similar to WeChat in China, leading some to believe he would attempt to turn Twitter into a super app that supports messaging, payments, ridesharing, food delivery and other services.

April 1, 2023

Brands and other long-verified profiles that didn’t pay for Twitter Blue began to lose their verification badges. Government and some corporate accounts were given silver and gold badges, but inconsistently, as various members of the U.S. government were left unverified.

Social media managers were quick to get in on the chaos by making posts begging for verification or embracing their “unverified era.”

May 3, 2023

At a private event during Newfronts week, Twitter announced an expanded partnership with NBCUniversal for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The company also revealed the revival of its livestreaming capability via Periscope.

May 9, 2023

Being nothing if not pro-free speech, Musk turned Twitter into the home for Tucker Carlson’s new show following his departure from Fox News in April. Musk claimed that Carlson would be subject to “the same rules and rewards” as any other creator, meaning that he’d get a cut of ad revenue.

Carlson would go on to interview guests such as Larry Sinclair, a man who claimed to have done crack and had sex with Barack Obama in the back of a limo in 1999. Sinclair had also served prison sentences for forgery and fraud, though Carlson didn’t make note of this on his show.

On Dec. 11, Carlson announced that he was launching his own streaming network, stating that X lacks the capacity to help him build out his show.

May 12, 2023

Musk announced that Linda Yaccarino, former advertising sales leader at NBCUniversal, would come on as CEO of Twitter in about six weeks and he would transition to the role of CTO to focus on product and software.

Advertisers told Campaign US that Yaccarino’s appointment seemed promising due to her extensive ad experience and deep connections within the industry. They also said that they’d like to see Musk take a backseat to let the company’s new CEO lead, and that “if the culture of Twitter continues to slide toward red-pilled trollism, most advertisers will be reluctant to return.”

June 5, 2023

Yaccarino began her first day on the job not long after The New York Times reported that Twitter’s U.S. ad sales had plummeted 59% between April 1 and early May. Ella Irwin, Twitter’s head of trust and safety and AJ Brown, Twitter’s head of brand safety and ad quality, also left the company a few days earlier.

Given the state of the business Yaccarino was walking into, media buyers expressed skepticism about her ability to turn things around.

Within her first month, Yaccarino, a fellow proponent of free speech, announced a series of new features to win back advertisers, including full-screen video ads that show under Twitter’s short-form video feed. The new tools did not address more critical issues that media buyers wanted to see tackled, such as growing brand safety concerns. 

July 6, 2023

Meta joined Mastodon, Bluesky and Post in creating a Twitter-lookalike called Threads

Most competitors hadn’t been able to steal Twitter’s cultural capital, but Threads had a uniquely strong launch with more than 100 million users signing up in its first five days, helped by its ability to piggyback on Instagram’s user base.

Twitter’s web traffic declined by 5% during those first two days. In response, it began blocking links to Threads in search results.

Threads, however, wasn’t able to keep that momentum going. Insider Intelligence forecasts Threads will have 23.7 million users at the end of 2023 compared to X’s 56.1 million.

July 13, 2023

Influencers began posting that they had received large payouts from Twitter’s creator ad revenue share program. But according to a Media Matters for America post, some of the biggest and earliest beneficiaries of the program were controversial far-right influencers including Andrew Tate, Ian Miles Cheong and an account called End Wokeness, who collectively made over $80,000 in cumulative pay beginning in February, when Musk first announced the program. 

Other paid influencers included Mr. Beast, who received around $25,000, per the report.

July 15, 2023

Musk revealed that Twitter’s ad revenue was down by about 50% since October 2022.

A new analysis by MediaRadar showed that AT&T, Coca-Cola, General Motors and Disney were among the advertisers who drastically cut their media spend on the platform.

July 24, 2023

The world said goodbye to Twitter and hello to X as Musk announced that he was replacing the blue bird logo with a stark black X, completing the rebrand that he began back in March.

The company installed and then swiftly removed a flashing “X” sign from its San Francisco headquarters after it received multiple complaints.

When asked about their interest in seeing Twitter turn into super-app X, advertisers told Campaign US that they would love to see such an app emerge in the U.S., but that they didn’t expect X to be the one to do it.

July 31, 2023

X sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) over research the nonprofit had conducted into the proliferation of hate speech on the platform since Musk’s takeover.

The lawsuit alleged that the CCDH “unlawfully scraped data from the X platform” and “cherry picked” posts that support its discovery of harmful content on the platform. 

It related to research published by the CCDH in June, which found that X (then Twitter) had failed to take action against 99 of the 100 Twitter Blue accounts it flagged to the platform for promoting hate, including tweets containing racist, homophobic, neo-Nazi, antisemitic or conspiracy content.

The CCDH filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November.

Aug. 28, 2023

X resumed hiring for brand partnership roles and altered its automated response to press inquiries from a poop emoji to a message stating “We’ll get back to you soon.”

At the time of writing, X’s career page hosts listings for jobs such as software engineer for ads, operations manager for ads escalations and technical operations manager for ads measurement, implementation and optimization.

Sept. 5, 2023

Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League for “trying to kill the platform” by accusing him of being antisemitic.

In a series of posts, Musk said ad sales were down 60% and “based on what we’ve heard from advertisers, ADL seems to be responsible for most of our revenue loss.”

Oct. 9, 2023

Chris Riedy, VP of global sales and marketing at X, stepped down after more than 11 years with the company. He took on the role in November 2022.

Clickbait ads that can’t be reported or blocked also started appearing on the site in October. Ads typically have a label, but these had no classification. They appeared on main feeds and users couldn’t interact with them beyond clicking on them to head to a third-party site. No information was given as to the source of the ads.

Around the same time, Yaccarino claimed that X welcomed back about 1,500 companies and 90% of the business' top advertisers in the previous 12 weeks. Media Matters tempered this claim with a report showing that returning advertisers were spending up to 90% less than they did before Musk purchased the company.

Oct. 27, 2023

X rolled out two new subscription tiers that boost replies to varying degrees. Premium+ costs $16 per month and includes everything that Premium, formerly called Blue, offers at $8: a blue checkmark and the ability to edit posts as well as make them and videos longer. The basic option costs $3 per month and offers a small boost to replies but doesn’t include verification.

Nov. 3, 2023

Musk announced X’s AI chatbot Grok, pitching it as a “vulgar” alternative to other AI chatbots like “WokeGPT.” Grok is exclusive to X subscribers and is maybe more “woke” than Musk hoped for.

Nov. 16, 2023

IBM suspended its advertising on X after a Media Matters report showed that it appeared next to pro-Nazi posts, one day after Musk condoned an antisemitic conspiracy theory on the site. 

In response, Musk declared that a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against Media Matters was on its way.

Disney, Apple and Comcast all withdrew advertising shortly after.

Nov. 29, 2023

Musk infamously told advertisers “Go fuck yourself” while speaking at The New York Times DealBook summit for pulling back their ad spend.

“Don’t advertise … If somebody is going to try and blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money, go fuck yourself. Go … fuck … yourself. Is that clear? I hope it is,” he said to an audience that included Disney CEO Bob Iger and Yaccarino.

“What this advertising boycott is going to do, it’s going to kill the company … and the whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company and we’ll document it in great detail,” he continued.

Media buyers, however, don’t feel responsible for X’s well-being and remain in no rush to resume spending on the platform. During his speech at the summit, Iger said Disney’s relationship with X was “not necessarily a positive one for us.”

Dec. 12, 2023

X’s 2023 ad sales, which make up between 70% and 75% of the platform’s total revenue, are projected to fall to about $2.5 billion.

X is expected to fall short of its targeted $3 billion in ad and subscription revenue this year.

X in 2024 and beyond

As the year winds down, advertisers are still waiting on brand safety improvements from X before spending on the platform at the same level they used to before Musk took over.

Meanwhile, media buyers have told Campaign US that they’ve been unimpressed by Yaccarino’s first six months working to clean up the company.

Ad execs recently called for her to resign to preserve her reputation rather than go down with a sinking ship as Musk attempts to pivot the business further and further away from advertising.

Campaign US

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