A senior lecturer in digital media at Queensland University recently corroborated reports that Elon Musk is artificially inflating his Tweets
Australian researcher Dr. Timothy Graham has used Twitter’s application program interface (API) to extract data indicating that the social media platform may have artificially inflated the reach of tweets by its billionaire owner Elon Musk.
The findings appear to back up reports from tech news site Platformer that Twitter engineers deployed a new algorithm to give Musk’s tweets more prominence after he complained that a tweet from US president Joe Biden about the Super Bowl outperformed his own.
“As your president, I’m not picking favorites.
But as Jill Biden’s husband, fly Eagles, fly.”
As your president, I’m not picking favorites.
But as Jill Biden’s husband, fly Eagles, fly. https://t.co/YtgaEC83Qj
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 13, 2023
Engineers were said to have inflated Musk’s tweets by a factor of 1,000, ensuring they were seen by more than 90% of his 128.9 million followers and showing up in the ‘for you’ tab of users who didn’t follow him. The report added that 80 engineers were involved in the tweaking of the algorithm.
Dr. Graham’s Twitter data shows that Musk’s impressions surged 737% in the hours following the alleged algorithm change, with daily impressions nearly tripling.
Shortly after the researcher shared his findings on the social media platform, his account was briefly locked and the tweets removed. They were reinstated several hours later, with no explanation provided by Twitter.
Currently for me. (It takes a while for things to propagate through the system.) pic.twitter.com/8ewVJIj0lB
— Stilgherrian (@stilgherrian) February 16, 2023
Dr. Graham has said he was able to track Musk’s tweet data through access to Twitter’s API, which he currently accesses for free. However, Twitter has said it will cut off free access to the service, instead charging a minimum of $100 a month. The move will affect researchers as well as commercial users. Graham tweeted that he may have to turn to other platforms or methods to track social media activity.
“It doesn’t bear out that kind of order of magnitude, but definitely something happened,” he said. “[On] the night when Elon Musk reportedly asked his engineers to do stuff … lo and behold, the next morning [there’s] this massive increase in his impressions, and then that’s sustained ever since.”
It is not known whether the removal of Graham’s tweets was related to their content or was an issue with the platform, which has suffered technical problems since Musk took over as owner late last year. Twitter has yet to comment on the matter.
The revelations are not the first controversy Musk has courted over his Twitter activity. In 2018, the US Securities and Exchange Commission fined the entrepreneur $20m for tweets about taking Tesla private, and this week his comments on the social media site about cryptocurrencies have caused fluctuations in the values of bitcoin and dogecoin.