The Impact of X (Formerly Twitter) on Pop Culture

Viewing social media apps or websites has been a daily routine for many people, as it is through social media that they can share their experiences and memorable moments while also being able to communicate with their friends or loved ones.

There are a few social media apps that are used by millions of people around the world, and one of these is X, formerly known as Twitter. To know more about this app, let us take a look at the origins of X and its impact on pop culture.

The Origins of Twitter

Twitter spelled using Scrabble pieces

The idea for Twitter was conceived during a brainstorming session that was held at the office of a podcasting company called Odeo in the mid-2000s. An undergraduate student named Jack Dorsey introduced to the board members of Odeo his idea of using an SMS (short message service) in order to communicate with a small group of people.

The code name that was assigned for Jack Dorsey’s project was “twttr,” which is inspired by the name of Flickr (an image and video hosting service) and by the American SMS short codes that only have five characters in length. They originally intended to call the project “Twitter,” but the domain name “twitter.com” was already taken during that time. However, just six months after the launch of twttr in March 2006, the members of the project decided to buy the said domain name. The first Twitter message was uploaded or published by Jack Dorsey on March 21, 2006, and the message read, “Just setting up my twttr.”

The prototype version of Twitter was used as an internal service for Odea employees, and the public version was officially introduced on July 15, 2006. [1] In October 2006, Jack Dorsey and his business partners, namely Evan Williams and Biz Stone, decided to form a new company called Obvious Corporation and acquire Odeo, which meant that they got ownership of Twitter.com. Twitter would later spin off into its own company in April 2007.

The Growth of Twitter in the 2010s

Twitter screen

By the 2010s, Twitter had experienced significant growth in terms of profit and number of users. In September 2013, it was reported that Twitter has 200 million users that publish more than 400 million tweets a day, and 60% of those tweets were published using mobile devices. [2]

Because of how popular Facebook was during the 2010s, the executives and designers at Twitter decided to redesign the website and app to resemble Facebook, and the redesign included the profile picture and the user’s biography being located to the left of the timeline. This Facebook-like layout was used by Twitter until 2019 when the website and app experienced another redesign that removed shortcut buttons.

Elon Musk’s Acquisition of Twitter

Elon Musk portrait

At the beginning of 2022, Elon Musk, a billionaire known for being the former chairman of Tesla, Inc., expressed a desire to purchase Twitter. Along with the intentions of buying Twitter, Elon Musk also expressed his disdain for Twitter’s moderation policies and how it doesn’t allow free speech and democracy when it comes to users expressing their opinions on various topics, including politics.

Originally, Elon Musk wanted to have a position on one of Twitter’s Board of Directors, but the members of the board created a “poison pill” or a tactic to prevent Musk from getting sufficient shares of the company. In response, Musk made an unsolicited offer to purchase Twitter for $43 billion. After many legal and business disputes or confrontations, Elon Musk completed the acquisition of Twitter on October 22 for $44 billion. [3] After acquiring Twitter, Musk fired the top three executives of the company, and he also started laying off half of the company’s employees.

Rebranding to X

Twitter rebranding to X

One of the first new features that Elon Musk did to Twitter was the revamped Twitter Blue, which increased the price of the “blue checkmark” that celebrities and brands use to authenticate their account and tweets to $8 per month. While the blue checkmark was once reserved for high-profile users, Elon Musk changed its policy so that those who are willing to pay for the blue checkmark will be able to do so.

Elon Musk also unbanned numerous users or profiles on Twitter. The unbanned users included Donald Trump, a satire news website called The Babylon Bee, and media commentator Jordan Peterson. Musk also unbanned the Twitter profile of Kanye West, but the musical artist was banned once again after posting a series of tweets that Musk believed to incite violence. [4]

At the beginning of 2023, Musk has teased that Twitter will undergo a rebranding process. In addition, Musk has also repeatedly referred to Twitter as “X/Twitter” and “X (Twitter)” through various tweets and statements. In addition to the rebranding, several features of Twitter were also renamed, and two of these features were Quote Tweets (changed to Quotes) and Birdwatch (changed to Community Notes).

On July 23, 2023, Elon Musk confirmed the rebrand of Twitter, and the rebrand started with the “x.com” domain redirecting to the Twitter website. The next day, the iconic bird logo was changed to the stylized “X” logo, with one line much thinner than the other.

The original holder of the “@x” profile handle or name, photographer Gene X Hwang (who registered it in 2007), stated that he received an email on July 25, 2023, about Musk’s company taking his Twitter handle. Hwang also stated that he did not receive financial benefits from having his handle taken, although the company offered him merchandise and a meeting with Elon Musk and the other leaders of the company. [5]

Many people, including media personalities, have criticized the rebranding of Twitter to X, as they believed that the Twitter brand name already had a strong following that Elon Musk could capitalize on. In addition, the rebranding to a simple brand name like “X” was a weak move from a business standpoint, as there are already more than 800 companies that own the “X” trademark in the United States alone, so the brand name isn’t memorable or doesn’t stand out. Despite the criticisms, Elon Musk hasn’t retracted the new brand name as of 2023.

The Cultural Impact of X (Twitter)

Twitter app

The impact of Twitter or X on pop culture is immense. The impact of Twitter is evident in today’s celebrity culture, as many celebrities today, including musical artists, athletes, actors, and social media personalities, have relied on Twitter to share their opinions and ideas with their fans while also having a platform where they can promote their sponsorships or endorsements. Interestingly, some of the most popular and controversial statements that celebrities made were through Twitter.

There have been many iconic pop culture moments that happened on Twitter. Former US President Barack Obama is the first US President to have a Twitter account, although his account has already existed even before he became a US President. The controversial “raw meat dress” that Lady Gaga wore at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) has been a hot topic on Twitter, as the dress was the subject of more than 90,000 tweets per minute. [6]

Beyonce broke the record for the most tweets about a celebrity on Twitter after she announced in 2011 that she and her husband Jay-Z were expecting their first child on the red carpet of the 2011 MTV VMAs. The announcement was discussed by 8,8686 tweets per second. In 2012, the song “Gangnam Style” by Korean artist PSY became the most talked about song on Twitter, as it had more than 18 million mentions in that year alone.

The most iconic photo of the Academy Awards or the Oscars, which was taken in 2014 by Ellen DeGeneres and included popular actors and actresses like Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Lawrence, was uploaded on Twitter. The photo was the most shared tweet in 2014, as it had 2.9 million retweets. [7]

Twitter is also used as a platform to discuss politics, and there were even a lot of “hashtags” that became popular not only on Twitter but also on other social media apps or websites. However, it is important to note that “hashtags” originated from Twitter and were subsequently used in other social media platforms after Twitter became one of the biggest brands in the world. A few of the most notable politically-focused hashtags include #BlackLivesMatter, #Brexit, and #FreeHongKong.

Twitter has also been the source of news for many people, as news companies and journalists have been using the platform regularly to deliver the latest news to Twitter users worldwide. Besides Twitter, Facebook has also been one of the main sources of news for many people, as a lot of us often check our phones and social media apps in the morning before we turn on the TV or read a newspaper.

Even though Twitter has a different name now, its impact on the history and culture of many countries will never be forgotten. There is no guarantee that X would have the same impact as Twitter, but since it retained almost the same number of users, it would still be at the top alongside Facebook and Instagram in regards to being the most popular social media apps in the world.

References

[1] DeMilt, J. (n.d.). The Origins of Twitter. Pennington Creative. Retrieved September 15, 2023, from https://penningtoncreative.com/the-origins-of-twitter/

[2] Moore, H. (2013, September 13). Twitter heads for stock market debut by filing for IPO. The Guardian. Retrieved September 15, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/12/twitter-ipo-stock-market-launch

[3] The Associated Press. (2022, October 28). Timeline of billionaire Elon Musk’s bid to control Twitter. The Associated Press. Retrieved September 15, 2023, from https://apnews.com/article/twitter-elon-musk-timeline-c6b09620ee0905e59df9325ed042a609

[4] Mackintosh, T. (2022, December 2). Elon Musk suspends Kanye West from Twitter for inciting violence. BBC News. Retrieved September 15, 2023, from https://www.bbc.com/news/business-63826675

[5] Titcomb, J. (2023, July 26). Elon Musk takes over ‘valuable’ @x Twitter username – without paying. The Telegraph. Retrieved September 15, 2023, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2023/07/26/x-twitter-handle-account-owner-not-paid-elon-musk-rebrand/

[6] Fisher, L.A. (2016, March 22). The 12 Biggest Pop Culture Moments On Twitter This Decade. Harper’s Bazaar. Retrieved September 15, 2023, from https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a14717/twitter-10th-anniversary/

[7] Mahato, N. (2022, February 25). 5 most-retweeted photos on Twitter. Sportskeeda. Retrieved September 15, 2023, from https://www.sportskeeda.com/pop-culture/5-most-retweeted-photos-twitter