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Social media and access to information: a difficult relationship?

On 3 May, the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day. It is an occasion for governments, civil society, and academia to take stock of the state of media freedom around the world. In recent years, rapid developments in the social media landscape and their impact on press freedom have been at the heart of these global discussions. The médialab’s recent research offers insight into how journalists adapt when their digital tools change overnight through a case study of journalists on X/Twitter after Elon Musk’s takeover.


In the past decade, social media has been normalized as a key part of any journalist’s toolbox. Twitter (now rebranded as X) became the platform of choice for media workers worldwide, becoming a central tool for monitoring the news, interacting with sources, and promoting one’s work. After Elon Musk took over as CEO of Twitter (X) in October 2022, this tool suddenly changed. Did Twitter suddenly become hostile ground for journalists? What are the press freedom implications of a social media landscape dominated by private actors, whose priorities can change from one day to the next?

In an article published in the journal Journalism in December 2023, Annina Claesson (PhD candidate at the médialab) explored these questions. She studied the way that French journalists reacted in the initial 6 months following Musk’s takeover through a combination of interviews, newsroom observations, and analysis of French media content.

X: new hostile ground for quality information?

The reaction towards the takeover itself was largely negative. The French media expressed particular concern about several of Musk’s first actions as CEO: his suspension of several journalist account that had expressed criticism towards his policies, his relabelling of public service media outlets as “state-affiliated”, and his changes to the “blue tick” verification system that had previously served as a marker of trustworthiness for journalist users and now turned into a paid subscription service. All these actions were perceived as threatening the ability of journalists to continue doing their job on the platform, even as Musk advertised himself as being an “absolutist” on freedom of expression.

From status quo to disconnection: gradual responses from journalists

Did this mean that it was time for the media to abandon Twitter? While several high-profile media outlets and individual journalists deleted their official profiles, most journalists stayed on the platform, even begrudgingly. The participants in the study often expressed discontent with the platform’s new ownership, but felt that abandoning Twitter entirely would be professionally costly - especially freelancers or less established journalists who were still building their audiences. Rather, they engaged in “strategic disconnection” to align their Twitter use with their values. This could mean reducing their overall usage, limiting their usage to strict professional necessity, or diversifying their social media use. Crucially, actively using Twitter was seen as a less neutral practice, even as it remained useful.

A year later, do these tendencies still hold true? One key issue is the lack of a real competitor, especially in terms of scale. Mastodon, BlueSky, and Threads have all gained users since Musk’s takeover, but Twitter/X remains the platform with the most global reach for media workers, which is difficult to walk away from. 

Some have still succeeded: a survey of Australian journalists found that 10% had deleted their profile since the takeover. A few prominent public service outlets have remained inactive on the platform after walking out in 2023, with the American NPR stating that it was never a big driver of traffic in the first place. In France, the “infotainment” show Quotidien made their exit with fanfare in December 2023, motivated by their political opposition to Elon Musk’s association with the far right. It is clear that the media remains in a period of reflection. A journalist’s choice of social media platform is now a less neutral act than before Musk, one that requires a serious cost-benefit analysis.

Consequences for academic research

This also mirrors challenges faced by the academic community. A February 2024 Nature survey found that half of the scientist respondents had reduced their time on Twitter/X and 7% had deleted their profile. As Musk imposed far more stringent conditions on the platform’s API access that had previously made Twitter a goldmine for social media researchers, academics were forced to look elsewhere for their data collection as well as their scientific networks. Other social media companies have also made data access more difficult for researchers in the past year. The médialab is deeply invested in the search for best practices in a “post-API world”.

On World Press Freedom Day 2023, civil society organizations raised the alarm on the risks of a digital media landscape where the whims of private companies determine access to information. Reporters Without Borders stated that Musk’s takeover showed how “platforms are quicksand for journalism”.

One year later, the social media landscape has remained in uncertain limbo for journalists and many other professions who rely on platforms to spread their work. Research has an important role to play in continuing to monitor these developments.