If you were looking for information about Sam Altman’s abrupt departure from OpenAI this weekend, you likely found yourself, like me, constantly refreshing your news feed on X.
While advertisers like Apple and Disney were fleeing the platform, starting Friday, over concerns that their ads were being shown next to pro-Nazi content, business news junkies were flocking to X to watch the drama at OpenAI unfold in real time. When it comes to breaking news, users can’t seem to quit the platform, because it’s still a direct pipeline to the stars of that news.
While OpenAI announced Altman’s departure via a blog post, Altman himself chose to make his first public statement on X just a few hours after his departure from the company.
Soon after, we also learned that Greg Brockman, the company’s president, was also resigning from the company—via a tweet he posted.
And if you hit that refresh button again, shortly afterward, numerous employees showed their support for Altman following his firing, tweeting the phrase “OpenAI is nothing without its people.”
OpenAI employees also shared heart emojis on X in various colors, a move that was reportedly to indicate to the board who would leave the company with Altman and Brockman, should Altman not be reinstated at the company.
X users were in some ways given a real-time inside look at the news as it unfolded, without the need for a newspaper or even a journalist. If they wanted a journalist perspective, however, tech pundits including Kara Swisher and Bloomerg’s Emily Chang were also tweeting reports on the news in real time, offering scoops from sources long before they made their way into stories.
The OpenAI drama even came to its conclusion (if we could call it that?) on X, when we learned that Altman, Brockman, and dozens of other OpenAI employees are joining Microsoft to head up a new AI Research team, again through a tweet, this time from Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella.
A lot of drama unfolded on X, which may seem surprising, given that X appeared to be losing advertisers, users, and billions of dollars. But perhaps the question is: If not X, then where?
A NEWS SOURCE, THEN AND NOW
Despite its shortcomings, X is still perhaps the only place where news can be posted by individuals where it will be seen and responded to by a large global audience quickly. While replacement services like Threads, Bluesky, Mastodon, and even Truth Social have managed to gain followings, none of them are currently able to hold a candle to the reach that X still has.
While Musk has done things like remove news headlines from article links and eliminate verified checkmarks that gave credibility to sources, the use of Twitter as a news source has remained relatively stable over the past decade.
According to recent research done by the University of Oxford, Twitter, when compared to other social media platforms, is considered more of a destination for news, and “particularly news about politics from mainstream brands, smaller/alternative sources, and politicians.” The researchers found that the total proportion of people using Twitter for news “has not shifted in any substantial way over time,” with a persistent minority of the online population (around 11%) using the platform weekly for news over the past decade.
And while it might seem as though Twitter has more of a right-wing slant since Musk’s takeover, the amount of people on the political right using Twitter for news between 2016 and 2023 has also only increased slightly, from 9% to 13%.
Researchers found that 25% of Twitter news users said the main reason they use the platform is because it’s a destination for the latest news compared to just 13% of users who get news from Facebook, perhaps the only other social media platform with a comparable user base. Twitter users tend to get their news on Twitter primarily from mainstream news brands and journalists, while they also pay attention to “politicians, political activists, and smaller or alternative news sources” as well.
As for the type of news they’re looking for, research showed that the majority of Twitter news users use the platform for “updates on national politics and news about business, finance, and economics”—business news, like, say, the high-profile firing of the CEO of one of the largest AI brands.
All that said, with the changes Musk has made and continues to make to the platform, how and if Twitter is used as a news source in the future may change. But for now, it seems like it’s a platform news junkies just can’t quit.