After Elon Musk renamed his social media platform ‘X,” the Associated Press Stylebook advised we explain it was ‘formerly known as Twitter.’
The social media platform we knew as Twitter made its debut in 2006. Elon Musk bought the company in October 2022. In July, he changed the name of the company from Twitter to X. The Associated Press Stylebook notified its users that they should, on “first reference,” call X “the platform formerly known as Twitter.”
Newsrooms around the globe rely on AP Style. They follow it so that Associated Press members can more easily share each other’s content. By using that same style, they keep their writing style consistent.
When they say “first reference,” that means exactly what it sounds like. The first time you refer to something, you refer to it with its full name or any identifying information. If you’re writing about a doctor, for example, on first reference, you’d call him Dr. John Doe. After that, on second reference and beyond, you’d simply write Doe.
Once you remind people that X is “formally known as Twitter,” you’re off the hook. You then refer to it as X to your heart’s content.
There are still plenty of people who refer to it as Twitter. They remain defiant: That’s what they always have called it and they have no intention of using the new name. You will always encounter folks like that.
But there are probably plenty of people who don’t care enough about social media to know the platform’s name change happened. It might help them to know that Twitter has a new name.
So how long must we remind people of what it used to be?
Back in July, when the name change happened, AP White House reporter Seung Min Kim posted this update for the AP Stylebook:
“On first reference, refer to the platform as X, formerly known as Twitter. The term tweet remains acceptable,” she said.
(I’ll come back to the tweet thing.) But neither her post — nor anything I’ve seen from AP — puts any kind of expiration date on that guidance. That leads to the obvious question: How long does it take the general public to generally recognize that Twitter is now X without journalists (and anyone else who follows AP Style) having to explain that every single time?
When I worked in marketing, one of the basic rules was this: Roughly at the time you’re ready to throw something at the screen because you’ve heard it so many times…that’s the very moment your audience is only beginning to get the message.
If that mantra holds true here, journalists may be stuck with the whole “formally known as Twitter” thing for quite a while.
On the other hand, if X continues making headlines, albeit for the wrong reasons, its familiarity (or infamy, depending on your point of view), will grow quickly enough that the disclaimer line will no longer be necessary before we know it.
But why do we get to call ‘posts’ by the old name ‘tweets’?
But one other question lingers. Why does AP Style dictate that we can still call what were formally known as tweets as tweets?
When Musk ditched the Twitter name, he also started ditching other popular terms like tweets, which he now calls posts. What he used to call a retweet he now calls a repost. Quote tweets became quotes.
But AP Style tells us the term tweet “remains acceptable.”
Why is that, exactly? Why wouldn’t it require us to refer to someone’s post, which was “formerly known as a tweet”?
If we were being consistent, we could have even more annoyances to deal with in this ridiculous rebranding!