There has been a significant shakeup on Twitter after news broke yesterday that Elon Musk entered into a definitive agreement to purchase the platform. The hashtag “byebyetwitter” began to trend as users seemingly upset with the change in ownership began deleting their accounts, and news broke today revealing that some leaders on the left have lost thousands of followers.
On the flip side, many conservative figures on the platform have gained followers since the announcement. And while some users like Tucker Carlson returned to the platform just when Musk took the helm, their return was not caused by Twitter’s change in ownership.
How Americans really feel about the Musk-Twitter take-over
It’s likely apparent for daily users of Twitter that the shift in ownership has been met with mixed reviews, but whether or not it’s accurate to say that a significant portion of Americans—including those who are not on Twitter—are upset about Musk owning Twitter is debatable.
While it is true that there have been enough tweets with the hashtag “byebyetwitter” to make it trend over the last couple of days, it’s difficult to decipher what that says about the general American public, especially since every caption coupled with the hashtag airs a different grievance or trolls a different constituent.
In fact, analyzing social media activity to gauge how the populace feels on any topic yields inaccurate results, and a “Hidden Tribes” study from 2018 explains why.
The study surveyed 8,000 Americans and identified 7 groups that shared the same beliefs and behaviors. Of those groups, the most extreme on the political right, the “devoted conservatives” only accounted for 6% of the population, while the furthermost group to the left, the “progressive activists,” only accounted for 8%. The most stunning revelation from the study, however, found that members of these smaller more extreme groups were the most active users on social media.
As American Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains in his most recent piece in The Atlantic, “The progressive activists were by far the most prolific group on social media: 70 percent had shared political content over the previous year. The devoted conservatives followed, at 56 percent.”
It can be inferred from this data, then, that the most vocal and extreme proponents, either for or against Twitter’s new owner, don’t accurately represent how most Americans feel. Despite that fact, it’s safe to assume political YouTube channels and late-night talk shows will feature the most extreme reactions to this change in ownership in the coming days.
Luckily, Harvard conducted a survey of almost 2,000 registered voters just hours after the Musk-Twitter deal was announced, and though it’s not a very large sample, it’s still a better gauge for how the general public feels about the matter than attempting to synthesize every #byebyetwitter post.
The Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll, released exclusively to The Hill, found that 57 percent of voters approved of Musk purchasing the platform while 43 percent opposed it.
While those percentages reveal the sentiment of the general public, back on Twitter, it seems that many users are indeed leaving the platform, and it’s apparent that the political left is suffering the bulk of those losses.
Twitter’s potential political equilibrium
As Jonathan Haidt noted, “progressive activists [are] by far the most prolific group on social media,” indicating that progressives may make up the larger share of active users on platforms like Twitter. It should come as no surprise then that the same users who oppose Musk’s takeover are following through with their commitment to flee the platform.
As Fortune recently reported, notable left-leaning Twitter users like Senior Adviser and Staff Secretary to President Joe Biden Neera Tanden and gun control activist David Hogg both tweeted about losing thousands of followers the same day Musk’s bid was finalized.
Even more prominent political figures on the left have suffered significant losses to their “followers” count. “[U]sers like Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all lost more than 10,000 followers overnight,” Fortune reports.
In the wake of this one-sided exodus, Conservative figures users like Ted Cruz and Laura Ingraham have gained followers. In fact, the day following the Musk-Twitter deal, Sen. Cruz gained over 55,000 followers, according to social media analytics tracker SocialBlade. Musk himself gained over one million followers that same day.
This dramatic shift seems less intense once the political leanings of Twitter’s user base is taken into account. According to a 2020 Pew Research study, 10% of users produce 92% of all tweets from US adults, and of these highly prolific users, 69% are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents. This could also explain why, outside of Twitter, the majority of Americans approve Musk purchasing Twitter, as the Harvard survey mentioned earlier noted.
As left-leaning figures are losing the most amount of followers, it might be construed that the majority of accounts being deleted belong to Progressive and Democratic affiliates—a major caveat to that assumption being that it’s currently unknown how many of the deleted accounts, if any, were bots.
But should a later analysis reveal that most users leaving Twitter do identify as left or left-leaning, given Pew Research’s data, it would indicate that the amount of right and left-leaning users are simply balancing out.
Perhaps Twitter is experiencing a long-overdue equilibrium of political voices, and maybe the next “Hidden Tribes” study will reveal more equal percentages between dedicated conservative and progressive activist users; time will tell.
Twitter accounts reinstated or simply unsuspended?
Coincidentally, within hours after Musk’s deal, conservative talk-show host Tucker Carlson returned to Twitter. Carlson’s account was suspended back in March after referring to US Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Devine as a “biological man;” a move that violated Twitter’s hate speech guidelines.
Thanks to new ownership, I’ve decided to come back! 😊
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) April 25, 2022
The accounts of other notable users like the Babylon Bee and conservative radio talk-show host Charlie Kirk were suspended along with Carlson for the same violation and have also recently returned to Twitter. On April 25, Carlson simply tweeted: “We’re back.”
Even though the reactivation of these accounts coincided with announcement of Twitter’s Board of Directors accepting Musk’s offer, the two events are unrelated. Carlson’s and Kirk’s accounts had simply reached the end of their suspension periods.