It took a little over a year for Elon Musk to prove me dead wrong.
In April of 2022, the Twitter board accepted Musk's $44 billion offer to acquire the company. My colleague, columnist Tony Messenger, and I posted a video a few weeks later discussing what this might mean for the future of the site.
We lamented how much time we'd spent on the platform. I'd been tweeting for 15 years at that point. What started as a useful tool became a daily habit. The site attracted so many journalists because it could be used as a curated news feed and start conversations with people around the world.
And it was more than a source of news or entertainment. Twitter also became a pivotal force in movements for social justice and freedom: helping mobilize protests in Iran, fueling the Arab Spring, giving rise to the #MeToo revelations and galvanizing millions after the killings of George Floyd and Michael Brown.
It was a place to learn from and engage with others and share our own thoughts on the biggest events and debates –- all in real time.
When Musk took over, my colleague and I were concerned that he might ruin it. Messenger said he feared that the people who used social media to attack and harass others would be given free rein to do so under the new ownership.
"But ultimately, (Musk's) a businessman, and I don't think he's going to do something that destroys the platform," he said.
"If he forces Twitter to loosen its rules against hate speech online, then he will see people leave, and less engagement, which translates to a loss in money," I said. We decided to wait and see what happened.
So, here's what happened: Since Musk took over, hate speech and misinformation spiked, traffic plunged, advertisers fled and competitors have proliferated. Twitter still has around 300 million users on the site, but the bulk of its content is created by "power users." Among U.S. adults who use the site, 20% produce 98% of that subgroup's tweets, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center. These power users' average number of tweets per month declined by around 25% following the acquisition by Musk, the report found.
Matthew Prince, CEO of internet services company Cloudflare, posted a chart this week (on Twitter, ironically enough) showing that the platform has been on the decline since the start of this year.
The data reflect my own experiences. The comments on Twitter have gotten nastier. There is less reach and engagement for those of us who refuse to pay the subscription fee. Fewer people see what you're sharing. It's far less useful and interesting than before.
It made me think about why I was so wrong about Musk. I had bought into the meritocracy myth so prevalent in American society. We are biased toward wildly wealthy businessmen, assuming that in order to amass billions of dollars, a person must possess an exceptional level of intelligence or business savvy. Such a rare achievement must be a result of some kind of genius.
Well, this week Musk challenged his business rival Mark Zuckerberg to a literal penis-measuring contest.
The genius just leaps off the screen when you read Musk's tweets: He promotes conspiracy theories and hurls childish insults at his critics. The silver lining in Musk's destruction of Twitter through a relentless series of bad decisions has been seeing his unfiltered thoughts online. He's laid to rest the notion that massive wealth translates to great leadership or wisdom.
Listening to my words from a year ago made me realize how ingrained these assumptions are.
There's a raft of reports about the negative impact on young people who are heavy users of social media. But clearly, young people are not alone in spending too much time online. Being ensconced in an online bubble can warp anyone's thinking -- about themselves, others and the world around them.
The Musk fiasco has me appreciating the value of posting less on social media.
But I'm also among the 100 million users who joined Zuckerberg's rival site, Threads, in the first five days since it launched. Part of me hopes that it might eventually feel like the old Twitter.
On the other hand, it's another billionaire's brainchild.