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Oct. 5, 2023, 2:54 p.m.
Audience & Social

News story or meme? After Elon Musk aXes headlines, it’s hard to tell

If you had to come up with a single move designed to deal a blow to whatever traffic is left and make sharing news more of a hassle, you couldn’t do much better than eliminating headlines from posts.

The saga of how Elon Musk has undermined news on X (RIP Twitter) in the year since his chaotic evil takeover of the company is a long one. Swapping verification for pay-to-play system Twitter Blue1 ; labeling NPR “state-affiliated media”; and throttling the (already-limited) flow of traffic to news websites from links posted on the platform, to name a few standout moments.

But if you had to come up with a single move designed to deal a blow to whatever traffic is left and make sharing news more of a hassle, you couldn’t do much better than eliminating headlines from posts, which Musk did on Wednesday. Here’s what that looks like for news stories:

Here’s what that same tweet would have looked like before the change. (For some reason, embedded tweets still show headlines, at least for now.)

This change has been in the works since at least August, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. According to legacy news lover Musk, removing headlines “greatly improves the esthetics [sic].” Aside from headlines being the tools that reporters and editors craft explicitly as hooks to try to get a reader to click, with these textless images, news stories basically look like…memes? As reporters and non-reporters alike have demonstrated:

Could a change that allows you to share a link with a headline you make up based on a photo and zero context help spread…….misinformation? Surely not, since here on the internet in 2023 we all live a totally organic and truthfueled lifestyle, especially on TwitterX

Anyway, another view out there — maybe eliminating headlines will, ironically, make people more likely to click, because they want to know what the story is about and have nothing to work off except a mystery image:

This change might not be that hard for news outlets to work around. This morning, for instance, our own Josh Benton built a system for Nieman Lab that allows us to convert a headline, deck, and visual to a single image and post that in a tweet. It looks like this:

You can also just use a social-specific visual, similar to what many reporters already use if posting stories on Instagram, or an article screenshot, which is what many reporters already share on X anyway:

It also looks as if the change, for now, has some loopholes that don’t require workarounds. When you post links without a featured image, the headline still shows up:

For a lot of users, the change will probably be, above all, annoying, and one more blow to eX-Twitter’s utility — one more obstacle to sharing or skimming the kind of quick information bites that drew people to the platform in the first place.

Will this latest bruh moment be enough to drive the media world off the platform for good, finally? Honestly, probably not. We’re too addicted as an industry and no one alternative has taken off enough to feed the beast of that addiction in the same way…but as just one more wound in the tragicomedy of Twitter’s death by a thousand cuts, pretty soon there won’t be any useful features left to sabotage.

Photo of an axe by Brands&People on Unsplash.

  1. FWIW: Nieman Lab does NOT pay for Twitter Blue, but we have the (free) verified organization gold checkmark that is some vestige of a previous verification model and gives Nieman Lab staff a legacy blue checkmark… ↩︎
Sophie Culpepper is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (sophie@niemanlab.org) or Twitter DM (@s_peppered).
POSTED     Oct. 5, 2023, 2:54 p.m.
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