< The Year in Social Media
By Mario Ritter, Jr
28 December 2023

This year, social media services gained a lot of attention for their growth methods and for their influence.

The Associated Press recently looked back at 2023 to see what developments in social media were most important and what might be ahead.

Twitter becomes X

FILE - An X sign rests atop the company headquarters in downtown San Francisco, on July 28, 2023. Elon Musk's social media company, formerly known as Twitter, has filed a lawsuit against liberal advocacy group Media Matters. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
FILE - An "X" sign rests atop the company headquarters in downtown San Francisco, on July 28, 2023. Elon Musk's social media company, formerly known as Twitter, has filed a lawsuit against liberal advocacy group Media Matters. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

In October of 2022, businessman Elon Musk took over Twitter. He promised to make big changes at the social media service. Musk is known for leading the electric vehicle company Tesla and SpaceX, a space transport company. He bought Twitter for $44 billion dollars.

Musk dismissed about 75 percent of the company's workforce soon after the deal was completed. He said the dismissals were necessary to make Twitter more effective and to increase profits. He also announced plans to have Twitter users pay eight dollars a month to keep their verified accounts. Verified accounts are identified as belonging to people with a lot of followers.

As chief, Musk also lifted some existing restrictions on users, including many well-known people who had been barred by earlier Twitter leadership. Former U.S. President Donald Trump was among the Twitter users whose accounts were reinstated.

Musk said those changes were part of a larger effort to protect the free speech of Twitter users. But critics said his plans were likely to increase the amount of harmful content and hate speech on the service.

This year, the AP noted that some LGBTQ groups have raised concerns that X is less safe. Some activist groups said they have left the service.

Many Twitter users chose to leave the service earlier this year because of Musk's changes. Some advertisers stopped doing business with the company. In October, X said it had over 500 million users and is adding users all the time. The company also said it has improved in combating misleading or false information by using Community Notes. X says it uses over 100,000 people to help confirm information.

Musk has said he hopes to change X into an "everything app" like China's WeChat. But it remains unclear if U.S. and Western users like the idea of using one app for nearly all their needs.

Social media competition

Many users criticized the changes Musk was putting in place at X. Other services aimed to provide competition.

Mastodon is a service from a German software developer that lets users share information across several apps. Bluesky is a service that came out of Twitter and has connections to former Twitter chief Jack Dorsey. Bluesky operates by invitation only.

Some users who did not like the changes to Twitter went to those services.

In July, the parent company of Facebook, Meta, launched another rival to X called Threads. Millions of people joined after the announcement. In December, Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was testing "interoperability." That is an idea that lets people use their accounts on different services, or platforms. Zuckerberg said the company was performing a "test where posts from Threads accounts will be available on Mastodon and other services that use the Activity Pub protocol."

Is social media good for children's mental health?

Social media's influence on children's mental health gained a lot of attention this year. The U.S. surgeon general warned in May that there is not enough evidence to show that children and teenagers are safe using the services. Dr. Vivek Murthy called for technology companies and parents to take "immediate action to protect their kids now."

Murthy noted how social media is pushing big changes in the way children think of themselves, form friendships and experience the world.

In October, about 33 states brought legal action against Meta for harming young people's health. The legal action said the company regularly collects information on children under 13 years of age.

And in December, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed major changes to laws controlling the way companies can follow and advertise to children. The agency proposed turning off targeted advertisements to children under 13 and limiting notifications to them.

And in 2024...

Artificial intelligence powers chatbots that perform writing tasks and create material for users of services like ChatGPT. In the fall, Meta chief Zuckerberg said his company was "building the future of human connection." He said that people will soon communicate with hologram versions of their friends, coworkers and others. The company demonstrated AI bots using the images of famous people such as Snoop Dogg and Paris Hilton. Meta believes many social media users will want to interact with celebrities.

Enberg, the social media expert, said AI will be used throughout social media platforms. "Social apps will use AI to drive usage, ad performance and revenues, subscription sign ups," and business activity, she said. Experts say social media services learned from Musk's X that subscriptions are a good way to make money.

Important elections will take place in the United States, India and other places in 2024. Some experts are worried about AI's abilities to create materials that can contain misinformation and then spread on social media.

A.J. Nash is an official with ZeroFox, an internet security company based in the state of Maryland. Nash said materials spread this way will have a "major" influence on elections.

"We're not prepared for this," he said.

I'm Anna Matteo. And I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.

Barbara Ortutay reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter, Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional information from AP and VOA sources.


Words in This Story

rival –n. a person or group which is trying to be more successful than another or trying to defeat its opponent

revenues–n. money from business, investment or taxes subscriptions –n. (pl.) agreements for payment in exchange for a regular service

hologram –n. a projected image that looks like it has depth, width and length but is only an image

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