04 Jan 2024

Reports of X’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

The Harvard plagiarism scandal is evidence of the platform's enduring power writes Nick Barron, Deputy CEO, MHP Group

Nick Barron

The website ‘House Price Crash’ is a community of thousands of people who have been praying for a UK house price collapse for nearly two decades. Day after day, the forum reassures itself that the inevitable implosion is coming, and that they were right all along, when they opted not to get on the ladder in 2005. It’s a community sustained by confirmation bias, denial of basic economics, and despair. Much like the media industry commentary about X.

Many journalists, influencers and comms people have been predicting Twitter’s imminent collapse and declaring its irrelevance since the earliest days of the Musk takeover. Some have even walked away to the social media equivalent of House Price Crash – Threads – to swap stories of X’s mismanagement.

And some of the criticism is justified. By some metrics, the Twitter community has shrunk since the takeover, and the new brand has much less media visibility than the old. Elon Musk himself has admitted that the platform could go bust if advertisers don’t return. But Twitter’s network effect helped it survive the departure of right wingers to Parler and Gab and so too it will survive the departure of progressives to Threads and Blue Sky.

In the meantime, as the resignation of Harvard president Claudine Gay highlights, it remains the only open platform where opinion elites co-ordinate at scale.

  • It was X where the testimony of Gay, and her peers from MIT and Penn before a congressional hearing on antisemitism on campus, went viral
  • It was X where mega-donor and CEO of Pershing Square, Bill Ackman, set out his case against Gay and the Harvard board
  • It was X where evidence of Gay’s plagiarism first began to reach public attention
  • While the journalist and activist Chris Rufo admits that without the coverage given to the issue by mainstream, left-leaning media like the New York Times, Gay would have survived, journalists from these titles came under pressure from influential X users to cover the scandal
  • And it was X’s Community Notes feature that discredited attempts to minimise the sin of plagiarism

TikTok and Facebook may be the platforms to engage mass audiences, YouTube, podcasts and Substack are the places where ideas and arguments are explored in-depth, and LinkedIn and Instagram are where we go to admire and be admired, but it is only Twitter that can energise debates, give shape and form to elite opinion, and mobilise elite action.

That’s why Musk bought it, that’s why so many were concerned when he did, and it’s why it’s wrong for anyone in the communications industry to write it off.

By Nick Barron

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