The maverick billionaire’s acquisition of the micro-blogging site for $44 billion is one of the largest buyouts in history, and is having a rippling effect on social media across all platforms.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said he wants “to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product,” citing promotion of “free speech” as a motivator to buy the entire company.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he said in a tweet.
The same argument was also the foundation for Twitter's right-wing clones—Parler, Gettr and Truth Social—which have become echo chambers for anti-Muslim and antisemitic content.
Donald Trump launched his app, Truth Social, in February 2022 because he said Twitter is “completely stifling FREE SPEECH”. The app has since seen 1.2 million downloads, according to data from Statistica and Sensor Tower.
“Truth social (terrible name) exists because Twitter censored free speech,” said Musk in a tweet on Wednesday, also claiming the app was “currently beating Twitter & TikTok on the Apple Store”.
Meanwhile, data suggests that Gettr has roughly four million registered users while Parler has around 16 million.
So, will more right-wing users gravitate towards these platforms from Twitter or are their users planning to return to Twitter due to Musk’s new vision?
CEO of Gettr and former Trump aide Jason Miller told WRVA radio that while nothing is certain about how this will impact the platform, Gettr will continue with its livestreams to set itself apart, something Twitter does not offer.
Truth Social (terrible name) exists because Twitter censored free speech— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2022
Fluctuating user base
While we may not be able to predict how Musk’s takeover of Twitter will impact these right-wing alternatives, many left-leaning users are leaving in protest.
“Users who have appreciated the evolution of Twitter’s content-moderation policies see Musk’s arrival as the End Times,” explains Kaitlyn Tiffany in The Atlantic, the same day the hashtag #leavingTwitter and #RIPTWITTER was trending in the United States.
Twitter has seen hundreds of thousands of users deactivate their accounts in response to the news of Musk’s acquisition.
The news also seems to have caused certain prominent Twitter users to gain or lose followers, such as former US president Barack Obama, the most popular user on Twitter, who lost 300,000 followers nearly overnight, according to NBC.
In addition, pop star Katy Perry, the micro-blogging site’s third biggest user, lost 7,000 followers, Michelle Obama dropped nearly 20,000 and Taylor Swift lost 15,000 followers.
In contrast, far-right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene gained more than 100,000 followers.
In addition, UK prime minister Boris Johnson had an uptick of nearly 10,000 followers and Republican senator Ted Cruz received an additional 60,000 followers.
But where are the former Twitter users going?
Some news outlets have released articles titled “Ten alternatives to Twitter if you are considering quitting” or “Thinking about leaving Elon Musk’s Twitter? Good luck finding an alternative.”
One of the most listed alternatives is Mastodon, an open-source software. It gained 28,391 new users the day that Musk announced the purchase, CEO Eugen Rochko told VICE news.
“I was working all day on fixing performance issues on the Mastodon servers I operate due to the influx of new and returning users following Twitter’s acquisition by Elon Musk,” said Rochko.
Mastodon said it saw an increase of 41,287 active users, which includes returning and new users, following Twitter’s news. After that announcement, it said another 43,292 users arrived on various Mastodon servers.
Another 43,292 users have arrived on various #Mastodon servers since that tweet!— Mastodon (@joinmastodon) April 27, 2022
Rochko said in a blog post that Mastodon’s increase in popularity is because it presents “a vision of social media that cannot be bought and owned by any billionaire.
“Funnily enough, one of the reasons I started looking into the decentralised social media space in 2016, which ultimately led me to go on to create Mastodon, were rumours that Twitter, the platform I’d been a daily user of for years at that point, might get sold to another controversial billionaire,” he wrote.
“Among, of course, other reasons such as all the terrible product decisions Twitter had been making at that time. And now, it has finally come to pass, and for the same reasons masses of people are coming to Mastodon.”
Another Twitter replica that has received more attention is CounterSocial, an ad-free platform that claims to have “No Trolls. No Abuse. No Ads. No Fake News. No Foreign Influence Ops”.
CounterSocial, which claims to have over 63 million monthly visitors, says its site crashed on Monday from the traffic of new users rushing to sign up.
And users on Wikipedia Co-founder Jimmy Wales’s platform WT.Social have been reporting an “influx of users from Twitter” with posts saying “Welcome Twitter refugees”.
Other alternatives that have been highlighted are lesser-known social media platforms such as micro-blogging site Plurk, artsy Ello and net-working space The Dots.
But, as The Guardian says, “the main problem Twitter replicas have had is reaching the scale of Twitter—more than 200 million users—so it’s hard to say whether anyone leaving will find something that is the ideal replacement.”
“It’s partially why Musk might have been motivated to buy Twitter rather than starting his own social media site, like others, including Trump, have attempted.”
However, even the big-name platforms are being pushed as alternatives to Twitter despite major differences in user experience, such as Reddit, Instagram, TikTok and even Tumblr. Some users on Twitter have been reporting a “sharp” increase in their followings on these platforms.