20 Mar 2024

From Extremely Hardcore: Inside Elon Musk’s Twitter:

Power User Multiplier

One week earlier, one of Twitter’s highest-ranking engineers had dared to say what many understood to be obvious: that the drop in engagement was organic. “If you look at Google Trends, interest in your name is on the decline,” the engineer, Yang, told Musk. He showed Musk a graph with an impressive spike in April—when he’d first announced his plans to buy the platform. It was followed by a jagged downward slope. Interest had gone from a score of one hundred to a score of just eight. “You’re fired, you’re fired,” Musk hissed. Yang walked out. Then Musk turned to the rest of the team. “This is ridiculous. I have more than a hundred million followers, and I’m only getting tens of thousands of impressions,” he said, according to three employees who were present. No one said a word. “Why is nobody else here speaking?” Musk said, sounding exasperated. He told the group they’d reconvene the next day. If he didn’t get a straight answer, they’d all be fired.

Lin and around eighty colleagues worked through the night rewriting the Twitter algorithm. First, they applied a special signature to Musk’s profile to ensure he showed up in almost every user’s feed, whether they followed him or not. Then they applied a “power user multiplier” to artificially boost his tweets by a factor of one thousand.

The next day, a Monday morning, Twitter users logged on to see an entire feed of Elon Musk. His replies to obscure right-wing accounts were showing up at the top of the app. People were furious. “why the absolute fuck is elon musk all over my for you on twitter?” asked Twitter user @kenminkim. “My ‘For You’ page is literally just Elon Musk replies and ads lmao,” wrote @TayInLA_. “Is Twitter literally just his personal mouthpiece now?” asked @johnjsills.

The outrage made Musk more ecstatic. He roamed the halls of Twitter HQ, thumbing through his feed, delighted. “It’s just like that meme of that girl pouring milk down her friend’s throat,” he told employees happily, shaking his head. “That’s like me with the tweets.” Moments later, he tweeted the meme, labeling the blond girl pouring milk as “Elon’s tweets” and the brunette being force-fed “Twitter.”


Musk offered to build a mini-submarine to help navigate the caves, and an escape pod to transport the children to safety. He started tweeting out updates. “Construction complete in about 8 hours, then 17 hour flight to Thailand,” he wrote on July 7. He even directed employees to pressure Thai government officials “to make complimentary public statements about him and the technology his engineers were developing to aid in the cave rescue,” according to CNBC’s Lora Kolodny.

Vernon Unsworth, one of the experts involved in the rescue mission, went on CNN and called Musk’s efforts a PR stunt. “It had absolutely no chance of working,” he said. “He can stick his submarine where it hurts.” Musk was furious. “We will make one of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 no problemo. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it,” he shot back in a since-deleted tweet.

The Original Super App

Throughout the interview, Boorstin tried to pin Yaccarino down about how X was doing as a company, but Yaccarino didn’t seem to know. She said X was close to breakeven and would turn a profit in 2024. But when asked about Musk’s plan to put all of X behind a paywall, she seemed to have no idea what Boorstin was talking about. At one point, Boorstin asked the CEO about X’s number of daily active users. Yaccarino responded that there were “probably 200, 250 [million], something like that.” The most famous image from the interview—the one that instantly went viral—was when Yaccarino held up her phone and inadvertently revealed X wasn’t on her home screen. Instead, there were Facebook and Instagram, along with an app of the Holy Bible. “The original super app,” quipped Verge reporter Alex Heath.