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How Elon Musk Buying Twitter Affects Artists

Let’s breakdown how the Musk-meltdown is going to impact us artists.

By Entertainment, Featured, News

A black and white photo of Elon Musk looking to his left. He's looking at a twitter post that shows emojis of fire surrounding an artist.

Illustration by Nidhi Shenoy. Photo used under Creative Commons from Daniel Oberhaus (2018).

Ah, Twitter. Another day, another controversy, but this time the controversy isn’t looking to go away. Instead of a single person being canceled, the entire site is looking towards its end due to it being newly acquired by none other than Elon Musk. If you’re not up to speed about what’s going on here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened and how this impacts artists.

Earlier this year in April 2022, Musk announced he would buy Twitter before ultimately backing out of the deal in July. Twitter then sued Musk saying he must complete the deal, but  just before the case was set to go to trial, Musk finalized the deal on October 27th, 2022 and bought Twitter for $44 billion. However, to achieve this deal, Forbes reports Musk had to take out a $12.5 billion loan. What makes this particularly absurd is that like many social media sites, Twitter is not profitable. Vanity Fair states that in Twitter’s second quarter of 2022 (the months of April through June), the social media site had a loss of $270 million. 

So with that knowledge and the amount of money he spent, Musk began to take drastic measures. The day immediately after the purchase, Musk, in a bid to push for “free speech” on Twitter and appeal to his right-wing fanbase, implied that he planned to bring back previously banned controversial people, which is concerning due to Musk’s political leanings. According to the Independent, he claims to “stay out of politics,” but he has consistently taken a more conservative stance.  Conservative’s opinions on free speech can be summed up as amplifying their voice, while silencing dissenting ideas. The Independent also tells us that just this past Election day, he told his followers, a whopping total of 115 million, to vote Republican. So while free speech in theory is a good thing, Musk’s idea of free speech may not be great in practice.  

On Nov. 1st, Musk announced the verified checkmark, the one tool meant to protect against trolls and impersonators celebrities, brands, influencers, and the like, was now available to anyone who would pay for Twitter Blue for $8 a month. Prior to this, being verified was not something you paid for. It was reserved only for a select few with fame, a following, or other credentials.  Then on November 4th, Musk laid off about 50% of workers under the claims of the layoffs  being needed for future success of the company  and reducing redundancies. But the bad news kept rolling in. That same day at an investment talk, Wall Street Journal reported Musk said “users who subscribe to [Twitter Blue] would have their content shown at the top of feeds, above spam tweets.” But what qualifies as a spam tweet is unclear. Is it simply an unverified account? Is it a tweet from a bot? No one really knows. All of which compiles into one big predicament for all Twitter users, but artists especially.

Like many users, the majority of artists are unverified. The difference between artists and regular users though is engagement. Artists need engagement to thrive, not only to build a following, but so they can get commissions, sell their merchandise, or bring attention to important topics. So with the potential change of making verified users show up first and  “spam” tweets later, this could kill artists’ engagement and therefore their livelihood, unless they subscribe to Twitter Blue. Due to this and the other issues regarding the lifespan of Twitter in light of Musk’s ownership, there’s been a lot of what I call “doomsday prepping.” I’ve seen multiple tweets of artists linking to where else they can be found on the internet, making backup accounts in case their main gets banned, making lists, which is a feature that makes a curated timeline from the accounts you add to it, and linking to tools that can help you save or backup your tweets. 

While I’ve seen a lot of this on my own Twitter timeline, I wanted to see what fellow artists and students were seeing and how they felt about the current Musk-caused meltdown. Artist Amanda Witt, (BFA 2024) a user of the platform said , “I think so far we just have to see what [Musk] does, unfortunately,” going on to elaborate on the possible effects on artists:  “Really there just isn’t a good social media for artists in general.” 

Meanwhile, Rachel Engelbrecht (BFA 2024), who uses Twitter to post her political art, saw something wholly different “I hate the changes and racism and homophobia that are now spreading like crazy but Twitter has been too useful to just stop. [Twitter is] one of the only really successful ways I’ve put myself out there so far.” The difference is stark. Average users and artists are experiencing massively different things resulting in contrasting views of the platform. So it seems that Musk’s changes to Twitter might be manageable for the average user, but things are looking uncertain for artists. 

Twitter, like most social media platforms, truly doesn’t cater to artists, but it’s become a place that has become helpful to them.  Engelbrecht sums up perfectly what seems to be the general feeling of artists on the site: “It’s really conflicting cause it’s a tool that has helped a lot but now it’s burning. I figure I’ll probably stay, if not to keep plugging my art then at least to watch it burn. It’ll happen eventually. It’s a big bummer though.” As someone who also uses Twitter as a creative space, I echo the feelings of this sentiment. Twitter is where I’ve personally  seen the most success, which makes me unwilling to leave. But while much of the changes to Twitter are hypothetical as of now, things are looking pretty iffy. As much as Twitter can be a pain, it isn’t just another social media website to users and artists. It’s a helpful place for reaching others just as much as it’s a place for some of the most awful takes. It’s a way of making a living and building your name as an artist of the 21st century. For many, it’s hard to give it up because we’ve seen the most growth and interaction here. Twitter is a place of artistic community. Maybe these changes are nothing to worry about, but maybe it’s yet another social media that’s becoming inhabitable for artists.

Hannah Ji (BFAW 2024) is a little too invested in her interests and has lots of random facts stored in her head. Did you know that pigeons can recognize individual human faces?

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