- Nine years ago, Twitter raised $1.8 billion in an IPO.
- Twitter became the center of controversy during Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House for his insatiable use of the app.
- Elon Musk is now in charge of the company’s fortunes.
A decade ago, the future of Twitter looked bright. The company benefited from a flood of funding into the social media space, which eventually led to an IPO in 2013 that raised $1.8 billion.
The company is now privately owned again. And they happen to be the hands of Elon Muskthe richest person in the world and one of the app’s most high-profile provocateurs.
It’s a tremendous moment. Twitter has become a vital place for people to debate, joke, and preach in their own circles of politics, sports, tech, and finance. It also serves as a platform giving a voice to the voiceless and helping protesters organize and express themselves in oppressed regimes around the world.
In recent years, however, Twitter and social media competitors like Facebook have been at the center of controversies over the spread of fake news and misinformation, sometimes leading to bullying and violence.
Investors worried about Twitter as a company. The company was generally unprofitable, struggled to keep up with Google and Facebook, and frequently discontinued popular products with no real explanation.
What follows is a brief history of Twitter, which – despite its many flaws – is one of the most prominent companies to emerge from Silicon Valley in the last 20 years.
March, Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams founded Twitter, which was originally a side project of podcasting tool Odeo. This month, Dorsey sent the first tweet saying “I’m setting up my twttr”.
In July, Twitter received a $100,000 Series A funding round led by Union Square Ventures. The app’s popularity began to explode after being heavily promoted by the tech community during the annual South by Southwest conference.
Dorsey resigned as CEO in October and was replaced by Williams. According to journalist Nick Bilton’s book Hatching Twitter, the board of Twitter fired Dorsey over concerns about the executive’s leadership style and public boasting.
Twitter’s popularity continued to soar, leading to a high-profile appearance by Williams on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show alongside celebrity Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher also wrote about Williams and Stone as part of Time Magazine Time 100 edition. Twitter was now a mainstream phenomenon.
Twitter reached space, with NASA astronaut Timothy Creamer sending the first tweet Outer Orbit Life. However, management problems continued behind the scenes when Williams stepped down as CEO and was replaced by operations manager Dick Costolo.
Twitter became an indispensable social media tool during the Arab Spring, the wave of anti-government protests across Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Protesters used the site to post reports and organize. As the Pew Research Center noted, Twitter’s role in “breaking news” was not “limited to the Arab uprisings — the death of Whitney Houston, for example, was announced on Twitter 55 minutes before the AP confirmed the story.”
Twitter’s reach has grown to 200 million active users. Barack Obama used the “platform to make the first public declaration of victory in the 2012 US presidential election, with a tweet that was viewed approximately 25 million times on our platform and widely shared offline in print and broadcast media,” according to company records.
Twitter went public in November. The combined fortune of Williams, Dorsey and Costolo reached around $4 billion.
“I think we have a lot of thoughts and strategies to increase the slope of the growth curve,” Costolo told CNBC at the time. “I would consider some of them as tactics, others as broader strategies to do what I’ve called bridging Twitter’s massive notoriety and deep engagement with the platform.”
Slowing user growth led to multiple stock declines and analyst downgrades. Twitter also dubbed 2014 the year of the “selfie.”
Compared to competitors like Google, Facebook, and even LinkedIn, Twitter was starting to look like the tiniest of internet junk. Twitter was still unprofitable as its ad business struggled mightily against its larger rivals. Dorsey would also return as the company’s CEO while continuing to retain the top position at his other company, Square (now Block).
Rumors began to circulate that Twitter was about to be bought out with Salesforce as a potential suitor. Meanwhile, Twitter and Facebook have been criticized for their role in letting celebrity users like donald trumpwho would win the US presidential election that year, spread misleading information without consequences.
“When the president-elect is on our service and uses him as a direct line of communication, everyone can see what’s on his mind,” Dorsey said at the time. “We’re definitely entering a new world where everything is on the surface and we can all see and talk about that in real time.”
For a moment, Twitter seemed to be on the upswing. The stock eventually trended higher as the company’s finances improved. Meanwhile, as President, Trump continued to use Twitter as his megaphone. According to Twitter’s own data, “Trump was the most-tweeted global leader worldwide and in the United States this year,” CNBC reported.
Dorsey and then-Facebook chief Sheryl Sandberg testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about alleged interference by Russia-linked actors in the 2016 election. Trump and other Republicans have increasingly spoken out about alleged political bias from Twitter and other social media sites.
“In fact, from a simple business perspective and to serve the public conversation, Twitter is motivated to keep all voices on the platform,” Dorsey said at the time.
Analysts found correlations between President Trump’s voracious use of Twitter and various markets, including gold, underscoring Twitter’s cultural power. Trump met with Dorsey – a Twitter spokesman said: “Jack had a constructive meeting with the President of the United States today at the invitation of the President.”
“They discussed Twitter’s commitment to protecting the health of public conversations ahead of the 2020 US election and ongoing efforts to respond to the opioid crisis,” the spokesperson said.
As Covid-19 spread across the world, the spread of misinformation dominated the online conversation. And Twitter continued to struggle to grow its business. The service was also hacked that year, and rogues gained access to over a dozen high-profile accounts, including those controlled by Joe Biden, jeff bezosand musk
Twitter permanently suspended Trump over inflammatory comments the president made during the US Capitol riots in January, which the company said could lead to “further incitement to violence.” Trump would claim that Twitter staffers “coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left to remove my account from their platform to silence me.” Dorsey later abruptly resigned as CEO and was replaced by Parag Agrawal, the company’s chief technology officer.
Musk took over Twitter after a protracted legal battle that culminated in a lawsuit in the Delaware Court of Chancery this week. The Tesla CEO agreed to pay $44 billion for Twitter in April, but then tried to reverse the deal. Changing course and deciding to move on, he walked into the company’s San Francisco office on Wednesday with what appeared to be a porcelain sink in his hands.
“Enter Twitter HQ – let that sink in!” he tweetedwith a video of his performance.
Musk immediately made changes, firing Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and head of legal policy Vijaya Gadde.
CLOCK: Billionaire Elon Musk enters Twitter headquarters, sinks in hand