Update 2023/02/17 at 12:05pm ET: Zoë Schiffer, managing editor at Platformer, which covered the initial story about Elon Musk making Twitter boost his tweets, said that Musk’s claims about the story are “completely false.”
This is…completely false. We stand by our reporting. pic.twitter.com/SBaYdoi3Ao
— Zoë Schiffer (@ZoeSchiffer) February 17, 2023
Schiffer shared a screenshot of a Musk tweet calling the Platformer story “bogus.” Musk also claimed Platformer’s source was a “disgruntled employee” who was on paid time off for months, had already accepted a job at Google and “felt the need to poison the well on the way out.” Musk threatened that Twitter would take legal action against the employee.
As some have pointed out on Twitter, Musk’s story doesn’t quite pass the smell test. It’s odd that someone who was on “paid time off for months” would have escaped Musk’s mass Twitter layoffs, and Google is also in the midst of its own layoffs.
It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of this story plays out and if Musk actually goes through with the lawsuit.
Update 2023/02/17 at 9:26am ET: Elon Musk took to Twitter to claim that his tweets weren’t boosted above normal levels as had been widely reported earlier this week. Instead, Musk said that the ratio of followers to views and likes of his tweets over the last six months “shows this to be false.” Musk then cited a tweet from nine months ago when he had about 40 million fewer followers than he does now. That tweet received 311 million impressions, and Musk noted he hasn’t “come anywhere close to this gem.”
Several major media sources incorrectly reported that my Tweets were boosted above normal levels earlier this week.
A review of my Tweet likes & views over the past 6 months, especially as a ratio of followers, shows this to be false.
We did have a bug that briefly caused… https://t.co/nM3SgUfoM7
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 17, 2023
As for the flood of Musk’s tweets that filled users’ For You feeds earlier this week, Musk indicates it was related to a bug that caused replies to tweets “to have the same prominence” as regular tweets. Musk said the issue was fixed.
The original story continues below:
Following reports that Twitter users’ For You feeds were flooded with Elon Musk posts, we now know why the platform suddenly started pushing its owner to so many people: Musk’s Super Bowl tweet got fewer impressions than U.S. President Joe Biden.
Zoë Schiffer and Casey Newton detailed Twitter’s new Musk-oriented algorithm in the latest Platformer newsletter based on interviews with people familiar with the events, as well as through documents obtained by Platformer. It started early Monday morning — 2:36am, specifically. Musk’s cousin, James Musk, posted a message in Twitter’s Slack with an ‘@here’ tag to notify everyone. The message sought help debugging an “issue with engagement across the platform” that was “high urgency.”
Elon Musk deleted his Eagles tweet after they lost lol pic.twitter.com/orz8mllGwE
— Matt Binder (@MattBinder) February 13, 2023
Except, the so-called emergency was a quintessentially Elon Musk problem. Musk tweeted support for the Philadelphia Eagles in the big game, generating some 9.1 million impressions before Musk deleted the tweet (apparently out of frustration for the low view count, not because the Eagles lost, as some previously surmised).
Biden’s tweet, also in support of the Eagles, generated 29 million impressions.
As your president, I’m not picking favorites.
But as Jill Biden’s husband, fly Eagles, fly. https://t.co/YtgaEC83Qj
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 13, 2023
Platformer reports that Musk flew back to the San Francisco Bay Area Sunday night in his private jet to demand answers about the low impressions. This, ultimately, led to the changes that put Musk’s tweets at the forefront of Twitter users’ feeds.
It’s worth noting as well that it was the latest event in an ongoing saga of Musk obsessing with engagement on his tweets. Previously, Musk reportedly fired an engineer who offered a potential explanation for his declining impressions. Platformer reports that Musk’s deputies told the rest of the engineering team over the weekend that they would also lose their jobs if the engagement issues wasn’t “fixed.”
The fix involved changing Twitter’s systems to boost Musk’s tweets
Musk addressed his team late Sunday, with some 80 people pulled in to work on the project. Fixing Musk’s engagement had become priority number one, and employees worked through the night investigating the issue (if only Musk had put as much effort into the other top priorities he’s claimed to have).
Per Platformer, engineers suggested that Musk’s reach could have been reduced because a large number of users have blocked or muted him in recent months. They also found a technical reason for the issue. Twitter typically promotes tweets from users whose posts perform well to both followers and non-followers in the For You feed — engineers estimated that Musk’s tweets should have fit that model but were only showing up about half as often as they should.
The problem was fixed by Monday afternoon, and Twitter deployed code to automatically “greenlight” all of Musk’s tweets, according to Platformer. This meant Musk’s tweets would bypass Twitter filters that were designed to show people the best content possible and that the algorithm artificially boosted Musk’s tweets by a factor of 1,000 — that score ensured his tweets ranked higher than others in the feed.
Moreover, the change allowed Musk’s account to bypass Twitter heuristics that would otherwise prevent a single account from flooding the For You feed.
This all explains the deluge of Musk’s tweets filling up people’s For You pages over the last couple of days. An internal estimate said that over 90 percent of Musk’s followers now see his tweets. It also resulted in an uproar from users, leading Musk to tweet about making adjustments to the algorithm. Platformer reports that the artificial boost is still in place, but the factor has been reduced from 1,000.
Additionally, Platformer notes that views for Musk’s tweets still fluctuate significantly, at least as counted by Twitter. (There are many reasons to doubt the accuracy of Twitter’s view counts, but there isn’t better information to work with.) But rather than contend with the fact that some of his tweets aren’t good, Musk pressured Twitter to show his tweets to almost everyone to keep view counts up. Faced with the threat of losing their jobs, Twitter employees made it happen.