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This is how German leading media reported on Elon Musk's Twitter takeover

It was probably the most dramatic takeover that the year 2022 had to offer: It took quite some time until Elon Musk was able to call himself the owner of Twitter on October 27, in the meantime there was a lot of drama, some confusion, and the involvement of other dazzling media celebrities. Almost nothing went unnoticed or unreported - not even private chat messages with Germany's most powerful media executive, Mathias Döpfner. Numerous media outlets were there from the start, accompanying Musk's back-and-forth with a certain fascination. Given the importance of Twitter in society, wasn't all this a bit much? Our analysis shows: There was a lot of reporting, and yet not much importance was attached to the topic in general.

This is the result of the Agenda Setting Monitor, which the data startup azernis is compiling as part of an exclusive cooperation with Medieninsider. For this purpose, the reporting of a total of eleven German online publishers with national relevance is analyzed. The evaluation includes the coverage on the home pages of RND, Tagesschau, Zeit, Spiegel, FAZ, SZ, NTV, Stern, Welt, Bild and Focus in the period from August 01, 2022 to December 15, 2022.

The home pages of the publishers function like the front pages of daily newspapers. The placements on the website indicate what news providers consider relevant for their regular users. Topics that are placed high up on the news pages correspondingly receive more attention. Azernis evaluate the topics and placements. For technical reasons, some high-reach news providers could not be taken into account.

The analysis shows: Twitter and Elon Musk are popular topics for publishers. In the period under review, the news sites analyzed published a total of around 300,000 articles on their front pages, more than 2,500 of which were about Twitter and Elon Musk. There were a total of 1331 articles on the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk in particular. By comparison, although Facebook has about three times more users than Twitter in Germany, Meta and Facebook are reported on in only 1227 articles.

It is noteworthy that the Twitter takeover attracted media attention only sporadically until the official closing on October 27. Only individual events such as the sale of a large block of Tesla shares on August 10 to finance the takeover or the billionaire's jokes about buying other companies, such as the Manchester United soccer club, generated corresponding reports. Overall, however, the topic was not considered highly relevant. Until October, the takeover of Twitter was not once featured as a lead story on the home pages studied.

Döpfner connection was hardly noticed

Coverage of Elon Musk and Mathias Döpfner also generated limited attention. In the course of the court case on the Twitter takeover, chat messages became public in which Musk discussed a further course of action with the Springer board of directors to allow more freedom of speech on Twitter and to make the algorithms publicly accessible. Coverage of the U.S. brand Insider led to four articles in the media studied here on Sept. 30. SZ, Stern and Spiegel reported on positions 20, 14, 13 and 42 of their front pages. One of the two articles at Spiegel led as a link to Manager Magazin.

Despite this connection to Germany, the Twitter takeover only really took off in the media in October. On October 4, Musk announced that he would take over the short message platform after all and turn it into an "everything app" along the lines of the Chinese WeChat. This information led to the first lead story about the Twitter takeover in the Tagesschau, and the following day the SZ also appeared with an article in the top position.

On October 21, the first news of planned job cuts after the takeover of Twitter made the rounds. On October 26, Elon Musk marched into Twitter's San Francisco headquarters with a sink and wrote "Let that sink in" on his platform. The purchase was completed the following day and officially announced on October 28. A total of twelve headlines were published on the websites investigated.

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After that, everything about Twitter seemed relevant. Articles were published every day and Elon Musk's leadership style and the chaos that ensued were highlighted in detail. The mass layoffs and Musk's unclear plan became lead stories on RND, Spiegel, Tagesschau and Zeit on November 05.

Musk's actions against journalists caused ripples in news coverage

The new features on Twitter, such as a second hook for account verification, were also discussed by the media. Once again, the vote initiated by Musk on Donald Trump's return to the platform received a great deal of attention with a total of four openings. Only in December did the coverage drop slightly again, but remained significantly higher than in August and September before the takeover. In particular, articles about the account suspension for tracking Musk's private jet on Dec. 14 and 15 again caused swings in coverage. More recently, the blocking of several journalists was also widely reported, so Twitter never completely disappeared from the headlines.

And what about the coverage of the Twitter alternative Mastodon? On October 28, the day of the takeover, the first three articles on Mastodon appeared on the sites studied. In the case of Der Spiegel, even on position three of the front page. In November and December, 27 more articles followed on the front pages of the publishers analyzed. Hendrik Wieduwilt's column 'Schlimmer als Twitter' ('Worse than Twitter') also appeared in third place at FAZ on December 5. So it wasn't enough for the lead position at Mastodon.

Zeit and Spiegel with the most openers, Bild with not a single one

The differences in the publishers' agenda setting are remarkable. Most of the lead stories on the Twitter takeover were published by Die Zeit and Der Spiegel. Bild published no lead story on the topic during the study period and a total of only 50 articles. Stern reported most frequently on the takeover on its home page, with a total of 239 articles.

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Although Tagesschau published the first lead story on the Twitter takeover, the total number of articles remained manageable. 53 articles were published on the subject during the period under review. However, the topic was considered highly relevant overall. Of the 56 articles, five were published as lead stories.

All in all, Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter was given a high degree of relevance in reporting overall only after the official announcement. The chaos that erupted and spins on poor corporate governance or the questionable power of billionaires repeatedly gave the topic a boost. The connections between Mathias Döpfner and Elon Musk, on the other hand, received little attention.


For the analysis, the home pages of eleven national German online publishers were analyzed: RND, Tagesschau, Zeit Online, Spiegel, FAZ, SZ, NTV, Stern, Welt, Bild and Focus. The study period was from August 1 to December 15. The entire start pages from the top to the bottom article were evaluated, i.e. all publications including multiply published articles (republishing) and automated content from news agencies. These phenomena are not filtered out automatically and occur at all publishers examined.

This article was first published on on 19.12.2022 in german. Er ist im Original hier zu finden.

About this article

Written by Stefan Paulus

Published at: 8/19/2023, 7:00:00 AM

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