Have you noticed that some of your favorite Twitter users locked their accounts over the past day or two?
Perhaps the most obvious case of a Twitter user that went private recently is none other than the platform’s owner, Elon Musk. With more than 127 million followers, Musk didn’t exactly go private in order to hide his tweets from the public.
No, Musk locked his account to test if the Twitter algorithm has gone awry. Here’s what’s happening.
Over the past month or so, many Twitter users have noticed a stark change in their Twitter feeds. Shortly after Musk took over, users began seeing all sorts of random tweets filling up their For You feeds from accounts they weren’t following or had never interacted with. Musk himself acknowledged the issue and chalked it up to an algorithm update which had been fixed.
However, prominent users – especially those within right wing circles and in Musk’s Twitter orbit – continued to complain that their engagement was way down due to the algorithm change.
Word began to spread that users were seeing more engagement, such as likes and retweets, when they had locked their accounts, which essentially makes their tweets private and only visible to their current followers. Normally, an account would see less engagement when going private as doing this essentially blocks users from being able to retweet your posts.
On Tuesday, one of Elon Musk’s favorite right wing Twitter users, Ian Miles Cheong, reported that he had experienced an engagement boost when testing this theory out himself. Cheong showed two similar tweets and their engagement within a back-to-back 5 minute period. The tweet that was sent when Cheong was locked received five times as many likes.
This test seemed to officially put the issue on Musk’s radar.
“Wow, this is extremely concerning,” Musk tweeted in reply to Cheong.
By early Wednesday morning, Musk locked his own Twitter account.
Users who were not following Musk already were confused as to why they could no longer view his tweets. Normally, a Twitter user would lock their usually-public account when some negative story or news about them was on the horizon. Some speculated if that was the case. But, if you have hundreds of millions of followers, it’s not like you can really go into hiding by going private.
Musk sent out a tweet, however, explaining that he was testing this theory that there is some algorithmic quirk prioritizing tweets from locked accounts.
“Made my account private until tomorrow morning to test whether you see my private tweets more than my public ones,” he explained.
There are a few bizarre things about Musk’s public test.
For one, his testing sample is apparently of one user, himself. Engagement and reach ebbs and flows based on an assortment of various issues at any given time. Sometimes content just gets more engagement based on the time that it’s posted or what else is going on that day on the platform. It’s unlikely that one user’s experience will get to the bottom of the issue if there is one.
Another issue is that Musk owns the platform. He has access to Twitter’s code and its developers. Those developers have tools (one would hope) that can very well reverse engineer the issue and figure out what changes were made over the past month that contributed to this problem. Musk locking his account is unnecessary and melodramatic.
Users across the board, politically left and right, as well as those who never tweet about politics, have been complaining about these issues. Regardless of what Musk finds in the test with his own personal account, Twitter’s recommendation algorithm has clearly changed for the worse under his leadership.