In the months of wrenching uncertainty and endless court filings ahead of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, some distraught users swore that they would leave the social media site if the brazen billionaire was running it.
The sale went through last week, with Musk starting his reign by promptly firing several top executives, then sharing (and later deleting) a post containing misinformation — all while talk of widespread layoffs ran rampant at the company.
The acquisition was decried by some who feared the world’s richest man — with a net worth north of $200 billion — would loosen guardrails around what users could post, leaving Twitter open to more offensive content or misinformation. But others, especially on the political right, cheered Musk’s efforts to make Twitter a place for “free speech.” Republican politicians and pundits have insisted for years, often without evidence, that social media companies “censor” conservatives.
Still, there has yet to be a mass exodus of users. Though several celebrities have signaled their intention to leave, others are urging their followers to stay — including Rob Reiner and George Takei — at least through the upcoming midterm elections. Meanwhile, many right-leaning accounts are gaining new followers, researchers have found.
Boycotts of dominant social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, have been largely unsuccessful in the past because it’s hard to replicate their reach and network. Boosters for right-leaning sites like Parler, for instance, often cross-post to Twitter where their followings may be larger. The difficulty of porting contacts and content to other networks has been a source of antitrust concern around Big Tech power.
Celebrities, including producer Shonda Rhimes and musician Sara Bareilles, bowed out after Musk took over. So did actor Tea Leoni and singer Toni Braxton. Author Stephen King has said he would leave if he was charged $20 for verification,
Musk is charging ahead with changes to the business — he confirmed reports this week that the company would increase the price of its subscription product, Twitter Blue, to $8 per month and suggested only paying users would carry the blue check mark established to show an account is verified. He also announced plans to form a content moderation council and said he wouldn’t reinstate any banned accounts until the group convened.
Still, some are not sticking around to see how Musk’s plans pan out. The digital analytics firm Similarweb recorded 86,565 visits to the confirmation page for deactivating a Twitter account on Friday, the first full day of Musk’s ownership. That’s about double the daily average from earlier in October.
Yet visits to the sign-up page also increased that day, to nearly 300,000 visits.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people addicted to Twitter,” said Darren Linvill, a social media researcher and professor at Clemson University. “And it’s hard to leave your drug.”
Twitter accounts belonging to some prominent conservative figures, including Rep. Lauren Boebert, Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Ted Cruz, have seen big surges in new followers post-Musk. Researchers from digital investigations organization Memetica found that Boebert, for example, added at least 25,868 followers in the past week whose accounts were created within that same window. The week before, data showed, she gained at least 244 followers from newly made accounts.
Memetica chief executive Ben Decker cautioned that the data is a sample of 15,000 daily new followers, meaning the actual numbers are probably larger.
“It is merely a canary in the coal mine,” the team’s data notes.
Some users wary of Musk’s leadership are searching for something new — the CEO of the decentralized social media site Mastodon noted this weekend that nearly 71,000 people signed up after Musk bought Twitter. But it is a much smaller social network.
Twitter is a large company, Linvill noted, so change won’t happen quickly: “What you would see is a slow shift, not a sudden bottom falling out of the platform.”
Ad agencies that spend millions of dollars a year on Twitter are monitoring the platform to see whether user numbers drop, according to an advertising executive at one of the largest media agencies. If the value of a Twitter ad decreases because there are fewer people to see them or engagement declines, that could prompt them to spend elsewhere, according to the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal decision-making.
Here’s who is quitting Twitter, who is sticking around — at least for now — and who might be back.
- Sara Bareilles, musician
- Shonda Rhimes, television producer
- Ken Olin, actor, director, producer
- Toni Braxton, musician
- Gigi Hadid, model
- Marina Sirtis
- Mick Foley