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The X rebrand is Twitter’s Meta moment… but there’s already a Meta

Cover image for The X rebrand is Twitter’s Meta moment… but there’s already a Meta

Photo: Chris J. Davis

Photo of Hanna Kahlert
by Hanna Kahlert

Meta’s launch of Threads has been the biggest challenger to Twitter’s social standing to date, with record-breaking uptake in its first weekend. However, Twitter still had an edge: an online culture that would be hard to regrow or replicate; existing creators and content ‘style’, and a brand reputation linked with critical cultural moments that the app played host to, from the US Trump election cycle to the theorising around Tiger King.

Yet this weekend, Elon Musk – who, since his Twitter takeover earlier in the year, has lost or gotten rid of ad revenue, thousands of employees, and potentially a bit of his own reputation– led the company in rebranding from the instantly-recognisable bird to a simple X to match the rest of his business portfolio (but comes equipped already with its own rights challenges). Tweets are now called “X’s”. The iconic blue is now black with a bit of white, the logo so minimal that it could be hard to pick out in a line-up.

Years’ worth of work that has gone into building Twitter as a recognisable brand has basically been wiped away. The question of the hour is… what for?

Twitter is not just an app. It is Musk’s potential in owning a media outlet in the digital-first world, similar to what buying a publication meant thirty years ago. As such, he is co-opting the infrastructure and audience base of Twitter, and he is using it to (try to) build something bigger: a platform of “unlimited interactivity”, with the goal of becoming a sort of WeChat of the West, incorporating online payments, banking, audio, video, and messaging.

Or at least, this is the goal. The difficulty is the Western world already has a similar company trying to do the same thing: Meta. While Meta has launched Threads as a competitor to Twitter, it seems that Musk is trying to re-launch the newly named X as a competitor to Meta.

Zuckerberg oversaw the relaunch of Facebook Inc. to Meta a few years ago – partially to avoid negative PR in light of the Frances Haugen testimony, but also as a way to redirect the company’s ends from simply being a social platform to laying an interoperable infrastructure for web 3.0. The company has tried currency (remember the Libra?) and even dating, and offers across its apps messaging, a marketplace, video, images (both lasting and disappearing), and limited creator tools similar to TikTok’s. Its apps have the highest penetration of any in the marketplace, making it invaluable as a social networking destination and a way to keep up or get in touch with friends both old and new – the phonebook of the digital age, so to speak.

WeChat has such success in China because it is one of a kind. X is entering already-saturated territory, with any need it could possibly meet already being filled by existing platforms and products with already-mainstream uptake. Meanwhile, Musk is getting rid of the one distinguishing factor of Twitter: its brand. A rebrand from Twitter to X is not the opportunity rebranding that Facebook to Meta was; there was no negative brand association with Twitter to wipe clean. This is simply starting over for the sake of starting over, with sky-high hopes for a flagging platform going into a murky and competitive marketplace, during a global economic downturn.

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