Did Elon Musk hack Twitter's algorithm to become the most followed user?

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 16, 2023
Updated • Feb 16, 2023

Australian researcher Dr. Timothy Graham published findings of a study on Elon Musk's tweets on Twitter recently. Graham used official Twitter APIs to find out if media claims of Musk asking employees to boost his own tweets would back or refute the claims.

tweets musk chart
source Dr. Tim Graham

The claims, reported by the Platformer initially, suggests that it all began with the Super Bowl. More precisely, with tweets by Elon Musk, Twitter CEO, and Joe Biden, President of the United States.

Biden's tweet received almost 29 million impressions on Twitter. Twitter began to display impressions recently for all tweets on the site. Musk's tweet, which contained a similar support message for the Philadelphia Eagles, generated only 9.1 million impressions. This, according to the claim, upset Musk this much that he deleted his tweet.

The next day, according to the report, engineers were tasked to game Twitter's algorithm to favor Musk's tweets on the platform. With the new system in place, Musk tweet's could be promoted to almost the entirety of Musk's followers on Twitter.

Dr Timothy Graham, a senior lecturer in digital media at the Queensland University of Technology, analyzed data provided through Twitter API's to find out if the claim had substance.

Dr. Graham concluded that "allegations that @elonmusk is forcing his engineers to boost his tweets are fully supported by the data". The analysis, which shows tweet impressions per hour over the past seven day period, shows that "timelines match up perfectly with the reports", according to the researcher.

Impressions increased significantly on the night that Musk allegedly asked Twitter engineers to game the system. The chart shows a massive increase in impressions since that night, according to Dr. Graham.

A chart of Musk's tweet impressions per day since January 2023 show an even clear picture of what happened on Twitter a few days ago.

musk tweet impressions, day
source: Dr. Graham

Impressions would occasionally break the 300 million impression mark, which likely depended on Musk's tweeting activity on the site. Impressions broke the 600 million mark after the alleged instructions to artificially improve impressions on the site.

The Guardian made the math and reports that Musk's impressions are up 737% and that daily impressions have "close to tripled".

Twitter announced recently that free access to its APIs will no longer be provided in the near future. Anyone who wants to access the API is charged a minimum of US$100 a month for that in the future.

Closing Words

To come back to the title question. Did Elon Musk ask Twitter engineers to game the algorithm in his favor? Evidence, provided by Twitter's own API, suggests that something did change in the past couple of days that pushed impressions very significantly.

Now You: what is your take on this?

Did Elon Musk change Twitter's algorithm to increase his own reach on the platform?
Article Name
Did Elon Musk change Twitter's algorithm to increase his own reach on the platform?
Dr. Timothy Graham, an Australian researcher specialized on social media research, published an analysis of Musk's tweet impressions recently.
Ghacks Technology News

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  1. Tom Hawack said on February 16, 2023 at 6:20 pm

    No artist, no creation, unless to consider that the artist would only be an intermediary to a truth existing independently, which is by the way an interesting approach in the face of doubts concerning whatever absolutes. The artist doesn’t seize he creates, IMO of course.

    I think that an artist is far more important than his work whatever he may say of himself, by true humbleness or false modesty. My opinion is that a human being is always more important than what he achieves. I have in mind (but unable to recall the source) a “further than it’s not what you say but what you do, it’d even be it’s not what you do it’s what you are”. Arguable I agree.

    Be noted that if we are accountable of our mistakes and crimes, why wouldn’t we be of our creativity, hence proud of it? An artist I believe is proud on the ground of his view on his achievements far more than on fame.

    I have no idea of what makes the man move, what stirs his thoughts and delivers his actions. But as always I remain convinced that to try to understand anyone it is indispensable to try to analyze more than his acts. Trying to understand, contrarily to a widely spread idea, correlates neither to an acceptation nor to a refusal, neither to forgiveness nor condemnation, but simply to a better knowledge of a human’s topography, map of his history. Particularly recommended for those who are quick to judge.

  2. Tom Hawack said on February 16, 2023 at 12:34 pm

    I don’t know if Elon Musk asked “Twitter engineers to game the algorithm in his favor”, I don’t know if Elon Musk is, feels himself as or reacts as an artist, I don’t know if hereafter applies only to artists :

    The Artist’s Ego | Ruth Armitage

    While some artists have stated that ego is fatal to the artistic process, Robert Genn describes ego in its purest state as the part of our identity that deals with our higher vision. He says: “Bravado aside, ego must still prevail: “For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)”

    If so, maybe that’d explain it (al)l? :=)

    1. VioletMoon said on February 16, 2023 at 4:38 pm

      It doesn’t matter in the least–to devote any time at all to such a “did he [Musk et al.] alter the algorithm” shows a deep, embedded bitterness and envy in those who seek such limelight.

      “The artist” realizes at once the following truth: “If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, all of us. There are about three candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. But what is important is ‘Hamlet’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ not who wrote them, but that somebody did. The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said.” [Faulkner]

      Or try a bit of Conrad on art and the artist:


      Now, maybe, one can discuss if Musk is an artist or something else. At this point in time, he is an entrepreneur who made a forced investment in Twitter, which is now experiencing ever-declining advertising revenue, and he doesn’t have a game plan. Not an enviable position. Meanwhile, Tesla is on hold.

      “Harvest Memory” delicious artwork.

    2. ECJ said on February 16, 2023 at 4:03 pm

      Na, the bloke’s just a fragile narcissistic twat. The artists I know are not egotistical; well not about themselves anyway, just about their Macs.

      1. Tom Hawack said on February 16, 2023 at 4:39 pm

        > “[…] just about their Macs.”. Funny, extirpates a laugh. So true!
        You may be right, no idea really. But I do believe artists, or some (let’s not generalize) need to be comforted, perhaps be assured they’re loved for some, at least that their creations, performances are. Ego remains for all a strong incentive to surpass ourselves. Now, is Elon an artist, what’s the summit of his motivations’ pyramid, is he fundamentally an engineer, a dreamer, an artist, a businessman? We’d have to bribe his psy provided he has any :=)

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