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Twitter’s New Experiments are Failing to Gain Traction, Which Could Lead to Major Changes at the App



twitters new experiments are failing to gain traction which could lead to major changes at the app

We need to talk about Twitter, and in particular, its latest efforts to increase monetization, and ramp up its development of new features and tools to incentivize popular users.

Over the past few months, Twitter has significantly accelerated its development velocity, with new features like Fleets, Twitter Blue, Super Follows, Spaces, Communities and more all coming in quick succession.

Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour recently lauded the efforts of his team on this front, crediting internal culture, and a new strategic vision, for its improvements. But the question here is ‘are these really improvements?’

Twitter’s trying a lot of things, for sure, and it needs to in order to maximize its potential – and there’s no denying that Twitter has dragged its feet on this front for too long. But are its experiments actually going to pay off?

And if they don’t, what then?

The most obvious case in point, of course, is Fleets, Twitter’s own take on the social Stories format which was essentially a worse version of Instagram or Snapchat Stories within the Twitter system.


Twitter launched Fleets for all users in November 2020, then shut it down last month, giving it less than a year of operation before pulling the pin. Which it should have done, and Twitter received some praise for having the courage to test something new, then admitting when it had failed.

But in the same vein, Twitter’s other experiments don’t really seem to be paying off either, and if Twitter’s going to stick with its approach, and shut them down too when they don’t produce, that could eventually paint a poor picture of its internal development processes, and the understanding of its executive team in regards to what works, and what doesn’t, in building the platform.

Today, TechCrunch has reported that another of Twitter’s experiments is also stumbling in its early stages, with its Super Follows creator subscriber offering only generating around $6000 in its first two weeks.

Super Follows overview

Super Follows is only available in the US and Canada right now, and two weeks is not an indicative enough time period to write it off as a failure, especially considering that creators will need time to formulate their paid subscription offerings in order to entice people to subscribe to them. But $6000 off the back of a product launch is not great, especially when you also consider that Twitter has over 37 million daily active users in the US.

At the minimum price point for Super Follows ($2.99), that would suggest that only 2 thousand users – or 0.005% of Twitter’s US user base – has subscribed to anyone in the app. And that’s at the most generous estimate.

There’s also Twitter Blue, its subscription add-on option which enables users to pay for additional features like tweet recall and new color options.

Twitter Blue

Twitter Blue is currently available in Australia and Canada, and we don’t have any stats on usage as yet, but the options on offer are not overly compelling, and it’ll be interesting to see whether people are willing to keep paying a monthly fee to access these new features (anecdotal sentiment seems to suggest that most subscribers found the features interesting, but not worth the extra cost).  

And then you have Communities, its latest big push to expand tweet engagement, and maximize usage.

Twitter launched Communities last week, and again, we don’t have any definitive data on its performance as yet, but a quick look through the current communities on offer doesn’t suggest that it’s ‘taking off’ as yet.

Twitter Communities

The idea of Communities makes sense – people don’t always want to share their comments with all of their followers, so Communities provides a way to have more enclosed group discussion in the app.

But in practice, the process has some flaws.

For one, given that most regular Twitter users have already curated a list of people they want to hear from in their feeds, Communities doesn’t serve any significant purpose in keeping up to date with topics of interest. It could, of course, enable you to find new tweet discussions to join, which could expand your tweeting activity, but the invite-only process means you have to know someone already in a community to join, limiting your options on this front.

Twitter could remove the invite-only provision, but that would then open Communities up to every spammer and junk tweeter who feels like signing on, so there does need to be some vetting in place (already, giving every new member 5 invites is problematic in this respect).

But the biggest reason that Communities doesn’t seem to be catching on is engagement.

Prolific tweeters already have far more followers on their personal handles than they’ll reach within a Community, so tweeting exclusively to Communities, only to see less engagement, doesn’t seem like an overly appealing prospect.

Again, it’s still too early to say, but right now, it doesn’t seem like an ideal fit, and it could end up being another failed experiment for the platform.

What about Spaces?

Spaces, which latched onto the Clubhouse-led audio social trend, still seems to be showing some promise, and could still become a bigger element in the app, with the public nature of Twitter providing the best exposure potential of the current audio social platforms on offer.

Twitter Spaces

But discovery remains an issue, and when you also see Clubhouse’s popularity in decline, it could be that audio streaming isn’t as big a game-changer as some had anticipated, and without adequate tools to highlight in-progress Spaces to every user, it’s hard to see Twitter making anything major out of the option, at least on a broad enough scale to the move its usage needle in any major way.

Of course, all of these tools are still being developed, and it could be that they all, eventually, gain enough cumulative traction to help Twitter boost its performance, and there are other experiments like Professional Profiles that show promise in their own ways.

But the question, as noted, is what happens if these new tools don’t catch on, which could be the key consideration in Twitter’s next shift.

Because while Beykpour overlooked this element in his reasons for Twitter’s increased development momentum, the real major motivator here is Twitter’s board, and a group of investors who forced their way onto it last year, in a bid to oust current CEO Jack Dorsey over concerns with his direction at the company.

Those board members, from Elliot Management Group, are not convinced that Dorsey, who also heads Square, is the right man to run Twitter, and they made a deal with Dorsey and Twitter’s management team last year on growth targets and momentum, which lead to Twitter’s renewed development focus, announced at its Analyst Day back in February.

Twitter growth targets

If Dorsey and Co. don’t meet these targets, it’s fair to assume that changes are coming, and that could see the end of Twitter’s executive structure as we know it, and a whole raft of new changes coming to the platform.

So while ‘culture’ and other factors are playing a part in Twitter’s new development focus, the truth here is that Twitter needs at least some of these bets to pay off, otherwise it stands little chance of meeting these targets. And while it is on track now, and usage is steadily rising (particularly in developing markets), the risks for the platform are very real, and the initial response data is likely provoking concern in this respect.

But Twitter needs to experiment, it needs to test, it needs to try new things in order to maximize usage, while the broader ‘creator economy’ shift also forces its hand, in some respects, in attracting and maintaining creative talent.

The problem is, most of these additions are solutions looking for problems – they’re additional pieces in the Twitter puzzle which look like they should be there, but maybe, ultimately don’t fit.

There’s still much to come, and Twitter does have opportunity on several fronts. But it’ll be interesting to see just how many of these new projects gain traction, and what that means for those approving their launch.

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Paris mayor to stop using ‘global sewer’ X



Hidalgo called Twitter a 'vast global sewer'

Hidalgo called Twitter a ‘vast global sewer’ – Copyright POOL/AFP Leon Neal

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Monday she was quitting Elon Musk’s social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, which she described as a “global sewer” and a tool to disrupt democracy.

“I’ve made the decision to leave X,” Hidalgo said in an op-ed in French newspaper Le Monde. “X has in recent years become a weapon of mass destruction of our democracies”, she wrote.

The 64-year-old Socialist, who unsuccessfully stood for the presidency in 2022, joined Twitter as it was then known in 2009 and has been a frequent user of the platform.

She accused X of promoting “misinformation”, “anti-Semitism and racism.”

“The list of abuses is endless”, she added. “This media has become a vast global sewer.”

Since Musk took over Twitter in 2022, a number of high-profile figures said they were leaving the popular social platform, but there has been no mass exodus.

Several politicians including EU industry chief Thierry Breton have announced that they are opening accounts on competing networks in addition to maintaining their presence on X.

The City of Paris account will remain on X, the mayor’s office told AFP.

By contrast, some organisations have taken the plunge, including the US public radio network NPR, or the German anti-discrimination agency.

Hidalgo has regularly faced personal attacks on social media including Twitter, as well as sometimes criticism over the lack of cleanliness and security in Paris.

In the latest furore, she has faced stinging attacks over an October trip to the French Pacific territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia that was not publicised at the time and that she extended with a two-week personal vacation.

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Meta Highlights Key Platform Manipulation Trends in Latest ‘Adversarial Threat Report’



Meta Highlights Key Platform Manipulation Trends in Latest ‘Adversarial Threat Report’

While talk of a possible U.S.  ban of TikTok has been tempered of late, concerns still linger around the app, and the way that it could theoretically be used by the Chinese Government to implement varying forms of data tracking and messaging manipulation in Western regions.

The latter was highlighted again this week, when Meta released its latest “Adversarial Threat Report,” which includes an overview of Meta’s latest detections, as well as a broader summary of its efforts throughout the year.

And while the data shows that Russia and Iran remain the most common source regions for coordinated manipulation programs, China is third on that list, with Meta shutting down almost 5,000 Facebook profiles linked to a Chinese-based manipulation program in Q3 alone.

As explained by Meta:

“We removed 4,789 Facebook accounts for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. This network originated in China and targeted the United States. The individuals behind this activity used basic fake accounts with profile pictures and names copied from elsewhere on the internet to post and befriend people from around the world. They posed as Americans to post the same content across different platforms. Some of these accounts used the same name and profile picture on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter). We removed this network before it was able to gain engagement from authentic communities on our apps.”

Meta says that this group aimed to sway discussion around both U.S. and China policy by both sharing news stories, and engaging with posts related to specific issues.

“They also posted links to news articles from mainstream US media and reshared Facebook posts by real people, likely in an attempt to appear more authentic. Some of the reshared content was political, while other covered topics like gaming, history, fashion models, and pets. Unusually, in mid-2023 a small portion of this network’s accounts changed names and profile pictures from posing as Americans to posing as being based in India when they suddenly began liking and commenting on posts by another China-origin network focused on India and Tibet.”

Meta further notes that it took down more Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB) groups from China than any other region in 2023, reflecting the rising trend of Chinese operators looking to infiltrate Western networks.  

“The latest operations typically posted content related to China’s interests in different regions worldwide. For example, many of them praised China, some of them defended its record on human rights in Tibet and Xinjiang, others attacked critics of the Chinese government around the world, and posted about China’s strategic rivalry with the U.S. in Africa and Central Asia.”

Google, too, has repeatedly removed large clusters of YouTube accounts of Chinese origin that had been seeking to build audiences in the app, in order to then seed pro-China sentiment.

The largest coordinated group identified by Google is an operation known as “Dragonbridge” which has long been the biggest originator of manipulative efforts across its apps.

As you can see in this chart, Google removed more than 50,000 instances of Dragonbridge activity across YouTube, Blogger and AdSense in 2022 alone, underlining the persistent efforts of Chinese groups to sway Western audiences.

So these groups, whether they’re associated with the CCP or not, are already looking to infiltrate Western-based networks. Which underlines the potential threat of TikTok in the same respect, given that it’s controlled by a Chinese owner, and therefore likely more directly accessible to these operators.

That’s partly why TikTok is already banned on government-owned devices in most regions, and why cybersecurity experts continue to sound the alarm about the app, because if the above figures reflect the level of activity that non-Chinese platforms are already seeing, you can only imagine that, as TikTok’s influence grows, it too will be high on the list of distribution for the same material.

And we don’t have the same level of transparency into TikTok’s enforcement efforts, nor do we have a clear understanding of parent company ByteDance’s links to the CCP.

Which is why the threat of a possible TikTok ban remains, and will linger for some time yet, and could still spill over if there’s a shift in U.S./China relations.

One other point of note from Meta’s Adversarial Threat Report is its summary of AI usage for such activity, and how it’s changing over time.

X owner Elon Musk has repeatedly pointed to the rise of generative AI as a key vector for increased bot activity, because spammers will be able to create more complex, harder to detect bot accounts through such tools. That’s why X is pushing towards payment models as a means to counter bot profile mass production.

And while Meta does agree that AI tools will enable threat actors to create larger volumes of convincing content, it also says that it hasn’t seen evidence “that it will upend our industry’s efforts to counter covert influence operations” at this stage.

Meta also makes this interesting point:

“For sophisticated threat actors, content generation hasn’t been a primary challenge. They rather struggle with building and engaging authentic audiences they seek to influence. This is why we have focused on identifying adversarial behaviors and tactics used to drive engagement among real people. Disrupting these behaviors early helps to ensure that misleading AI content does not play a role in covert influence operations. Generative AI is also unlikely to change this dynamic.”

So it’s not just content that they need, but interesting, engaging material, and because generative AI is based on everything that’s come before, it’s not necessarily built to establish new trends, which would then help these bot accounts build an audience.

These are some interesting notes on the current threat landscape, and how coordinated groups are still looking to use digital platforms to spread their messaging. Which will likely never stop, but it is worth noting where these groups originate from, and what that means for related discussion.

You can read Meta’s Q3 “Adversarial Threat Report” here.

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US judge halts pending TikTok ban in Montana



TikTok use has continued to grow apace despite a growing number of countries banning the app from government devices

TikTok use has continued to grow apace despite a growing number of countries banning the app from government devices. — © POOL/AFP Liam McBurney

A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a ban on TikTok set to come into effect next year in Montana, saying the popular video sharing app was likely to win its pending legal challenge.

US District Court Judge Donald Molloy placed the injunction on the ban until the case, originally filed by TikTok in May, has been ruled on its merits.

Molloy deemed it likely TikTok and its users will win, since it appeared the Montana law not only violates free speech rights but runs counter to the fact that foreign policy matters are the exclusive domain of the federal government.

“The current record leaves little doubt that Montana’s legislature and attorney general were more interested in targeting China’s ostensible role in TikTok than they with protecting Montana consumers,” Molloy said in the ruling.

The app is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance and has been accused by a wide swathe of US politicians of being under Beijing’s tutelage, something the company furiously denies.

Montana’s law says the TikTok ban will become void if the app is acquired by a company incorporated in a country not designated by the United States as a foreign adversary.

TikTok had argued that the unprecedented ban violates constitutionally protected right to free speech.

The prohibition signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Gianforte is seen as a legal test for a national ban of the Chinese-owned platform, something lawmakers in Washington are increasingly calling for.

Montana’s ban would be the first to come into effect in the United States – Copyright AFP Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

The ban would make it a violation each time “a user accesses TikTok, is offered the ability to access TikTok, or is offered the ability to download TikTok.”

Each violation is punishable by a $10,000 fine every day it takes place.

Under the law, Apple and Google will have to remove TikTok from their app stores.

State political leaders have “trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” ACLU Montana policy director Keegan Medrano said after the bill was signed.

The law is yet another skirmish in duels between TikTok and many western governments, with the app already banned on government devices in the United States, Canada and several countries in Europe.

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