Elon Musk wants your help fixing Twitter’s algorithm

Photo Illustration by Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Good morning. Fortune tech editor Alexei Oreskovic here, wishing you a happy Twitter open algorithm day. 

At noon today, Pacific time, Elon Musk promises that he will “open source” Twitter’s algorithm. What exactly that means, including whether Musk even has any intent to follow through, is completely unclear. 

First off, when the clock strikes midday PT, it will strike midnight in Hong Kong, which means that it will be April 1. In Tokyo, it will already have been April Fools’ Day for an hour. Most Tokyo residents will probably be fast asleep and not thinking about April Fools’ Day pranks, but then again, they’re not Elon Musk.

But Musk has been talking about opening up Twitter’s internal mechanisms for some time, so there’s a good chance there’s at least some serious intent to the plan. 

So what exactly will Twitter be revealing? 

Earlier this month, Musk said the plan was to open source all code used to recommend tweets. “Our ‘algorithm’ is overly complex & not fully understood internally,” he wrote, adding, “We’re developing a simplified approach to serve more compelling tweets but it’s still a work in progress. That’ll also be open source.”

So presumably we’re not talking about the Twitter “source code,” some of which was published on GitHub by a former employee whom Musk is now seeking to bring to justice. What Musk wants to make open source is the secret formula that Twitter uses to decide which tweets get pushed to the top of your feed, which users get VIP treatment, and what kinds of tweets get suppressed. 

That information will help regular users, marketers, and trolls “game” the algorithm, so that their tweets, for better or for worse, get maximum exposure (this is one reason Google says it keeps its search engine algorithms top secret). 

But open source doesn’t just mean transparency. It also means that anyone can make their own contributions to the code—proposing changes, updates, and fixes to bugs. You may recall that Musk has axed about 75% of Twitter’s staff, including many engineers. Is this simply an attempt to crowdsource Twitter’s product development, getting unpaid volunteers to do the work Twitter once paid people to do? Possibly. But I think the plan actually has more potential to create problems, given Twitter’s skeletal staff, than it does to solve them.

All the changes to the algorithm proposed by the public need to be reviewed and vetted and then incorporated into Twitter’s actual code. That process is not going to be simple, especially at a company with limited resources and suffering from a brain drain of institutional knowledge about its code. We’ve already seen Twitter suffer several meltdowns in recent months. If Musk follows through and legitimately makes Twitter’s algorithm open source, expect some turbulence.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions to Data Sheet? Drop a line here.

Alexei Oreskovic

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 


ChatGPT gets blocked in Italy. The Italian Data Protection Authority says that ChatGPT violates the European Union’s strict General Data Protection Regulation over its failure to tell people what it’s doing with their personal data. The Italian watchdog also said it is concerned that “the information provided by ChatGPT does not always correspond to the real data, thus determining an inaccurate processing of personal data.” OpenAI now has 20 days to comply with the ban or face fines.

Hiring at Lemon8. ByteDance-owned social platform Lemon8 is hiring partnership leads to work with creators that make content about food, beauty, health, and travel, Insider reports. These postings for jobs based in New York come as TikTok faces threats of a ban in the U.S. Still, Lemon8 is aiming to achieve growth with the new roles that involve educating creators on the platform and encouraging users to be a part of the app’s partnership program. The company also has similar creator partnerships roles listed on its jobs site for new hires in London, Jakarta, and Bangkok.

Fewer EVs will be eligible for tax credits. Revamped EV tax credits that were part of the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce the number of eligible cars. That’s because a credit aimed at saving consumers up to $7,500 on an EV comes with requirements that the batteries and components must originate from the U.S. or countries it has a free-trade agreement with. Automakers are still determining which of their vehicles qualify under the new rules, but it’s expected to be fewer than the current 21. The new rules will go into effect on April 18.


“I think the world wants and sort of needs a strong number two.”

Lyft's new CEO David Risher, talking about Lyft's competition with Uber during an interview with Fortune


Virgin Orbit’s sudden collapse is the latest in a series of high-risk failures by Richard Branson, by Christiaan Hetzner

Marc Benioff says he can juggle empathy, cost cuts, and layoffs as he doubles down on efficiency at Salesforce, by Michal Lev-Ram 

OpenAI’s ChatGPT faces U.S. FTC complaint, call for European regulators to step in, by David Meyer

How Binance really operates: The world’s largest crypto exchange boasts vast profits, hefty influencer payouts, and a ticking time bomb on its balance sheet, by Shawn Tully

The video game industry’s annual trade show E3 is cancelled again as organizers say they will ‘re-evaluate the future’, by Chris Morris


Remembering Virginia T. Norwood. A founding figure in satellite land imaging died this week at age 96. Virginia Norwood designed the first space-based multispectral scanner that flew on  Landsat 1—an instrument that defined many aspects of modern remote sensing, NASA says. In 1972, Landsat 1 launched carrying her Multispectral Scanner System for which she received the 1979 William T. Pecora award acknowledging her contribution toward understanding Earth better. Known as the “Mother of Landsat,” she also developed a radar reflector that uncovered previously untraceable high-altitude winds. “You sit and think about a problem and the solutions come to you after a while,” she told MIT Technology Review in 2021 about creating the device.

This is the web version of Data Sheet, a daily newsletter on the business of tech. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet