Twitter says mass deactivations after Musk deal are largely ‘organic’

Some accounts of high-profile right-wing users saw their follower counts rise

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 27 April 2022 14:29 BST
People React To Elon Musk Buying Twitter
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Following user reports that some high-profile Twitter accounts, including that of Barack Obama, were losing thousands of followers, the microblogging site confirmed “fluctuations in follower counts” largely came from “organic” account closures.

In the wake of Tesla chief Elon Musk’s deal to take over Twitter, the number of followers of some of Twitter’s most-followed accounts, including that of Mr Obama, singers Katy Perry and Taylor Swift dropped by thousands.

While Twitter usually purges bots and fake accounts that could lead to a drop in follower counts off the platform, the social media company confirmed to NBC News on Tuesday that the recent drops were largely organic and not from an automated process.

“While we continue to take action on accounts that violate our spam policy which can affect follower counts, these fluctuations appear to largely be a result of an increase in new account creation and deactivation,” Twitter said in a statement, adding that it was looking into the “recent fluctuations in follower counts”.

A Twitter spokesperson told NBC that the accounts which experienced the most drop-offs in follower counts were “high-profile accounts”.

Meanwhile, some accounts of high-profile right-wing users, including that of Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, saw their follower counts rise.

Ms Greene, whose Twitter account reportedly had 539,000 followers the day before Mr Musk’s deal was announced, had over 632,000 followers by Tuesday evening.

Caroline Orr Bueno, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Maryland (UMD) in the US, also confirmed that several prominent right-wing Twitter accounts, including that of Breitbart News, gained followers after news of Mr Musk’s deal.

“Breitbart News has gained nearly 14,000 new followers since yesterday — that’s more than 25 times its daily average of +541 new followers,” tweeted Dr Orr Bueno, a behavioral scientist who studies misinformation and psychological warfare.

She also said left-leaning personalities lost followers on the platform.

“Let’s take a look at the left-side of Twitter now, starting with Rachel Maddow, who has lost more than 18,000 followers since yesterday — that’s compared to her daily average of +223 new followers,” Dr Orr Bueno said.

“AOC has lost more than 11,000 followers since yesterday — that’s compared to her daily average of +468,” she added.

Citing previous research on biased algorithmic amplification on Twitter, Dr Orr Beuno said the platform disproportionately benefits right-leaning accounts.

“When it comes to account suspensions on Twitter, research has found that the ideological asymmetry (more right-wing than left-wing accounts are suspended) is “explained entirely by the tendency of Republicans to share more misinformation,” she tweeted.

“Based on probabilities alone, an influx of right-leaning accounts and a loss of left-leaning accounts will almost certainly result in an uptick in misinformation on the platform,” the UMD researcher added.

Following the social media company’s announcement of the deal, several well-known users of the platform announced they were considering leaving the microblogging site or using it in a different way.

Multiple hashtags, including #GoodByeTwitter started trending indicating many users were leaving en masse, but some also used the hashtag to mock supposed liberals unable to accept Mr Musk’s expected free speech policies.

In a statement after the deal was announced, the Tesla chief called free speech “the bedrock of a functioning democracy,” adding that Twitter is the “digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”

But several users, including human rights groups, have raised hate-speech concerns on Twitter after Mr Musk’s deal to buy out the company.

“The last thing we need is a Twitter that willfully turns a blind eye to violent and abusive speech against users, particularly those most disproportionately impacted, including women, non-binary persons, and others,” Michael Kleinman, director of technology and human rights at Amnesty International USA, told Reuters on Monday.

Actress Jameela Jamil said “one good thing about Elon buying twitter is that I will *FINALLY* leave and stop being a complete menace to society on here. So it’s win win for you all really”.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow also said he was exiting the platform.

“Looks like I’m about to say goodbye to Twitter as well. I’ve been pulling back a bit from social media anyway. This will be just the push I need to go all the way on this app,” Mr Blow said.

Henrik Fisker, the Danish-American chief of the US-based electric vehicle designer Fisker, deactivated his Twitter account shortly after the platform’s deal with Mr Musk was announced.

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