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Twitter Down More Than a Million Users Since Elon Musk Took Over, MIT Report Says

If you thought Twitter was on track to becoming the beacon of free speech its new owner promised, recent estimates from Bot Sentinel might suggest otherwise. Research published by MIT claims Twitter may have lost more than a million users since Elon Musk took over in October. Measuring user numbers between 27 October and 1 November, 875,000 users deactivated their accounts, while another half a million were booted off the site through suspensions. Just ask H3H3 and Kathy Griffin and anyone else impersonating Elon. On top of the prosed USD$8 (AUD$12) monthly verification fee for that glorious blue check mark that was previously free of charge to persons of interest, it appears people are actually deciding to leave Twitter for good, even if Rick and Morty want you to think otherwise.

Twitter users down

Let’s catch you up to speed if you’re not across the Elon Musk/ Twitter debacle. Musk launched a hostile takeover of Twitter earlier this year, which he attempted to back out of after discovering that the social media giant had overstated audience figures for three years, alongside claims that spam/ fake accounts were four times higher than what Twitter claimed. Despite the pushback, the USD$44 billion (AUD$69 billion) takeover of Twitter was completed on 1 November, financed almost entirely by Musk’s sell-off of Tesla stock.

Although Musk wanted to reassure advertisers the platform would not become a “free-for-all hellscape,” staff are raising concerns about the influx of hate speech, forcing major brands like United Airlines and General Motors to pause advertising on Twitter. Musk, however, blames the advertising exodus on “activist groups”, proposing “a thermonuclear name & shame” for any brands that leave the platform.

But it’s not just advertisers fleeing Twitter. After analysing more than 3.1 million accounts and their daily activity, Bot Sentinel “believes that around 877,000 accounts were deactivated and a further 497,000 were suspended between October 27 and November 1.” And here’s the kicker. It’s more than double the average number.

Calculated by looking at the proportion of deactivated and suspended users they analysed and then applying that percentage to Twitter’s approximately 237 million “monetisable daily active users”, they found a 208 per cent increase in account losses following Musk’s purchase. Believing the deactivations result from those “upset” with Elon Musk’s decision to purchase Twitter, Christopher Bouzy, Bot Sentinel’s founder, points to anecdotal evidence of users jumping ship.  It even forced author Stephen King off the platform.

“We also believe the increase in suspensions is from Twitter taking action on accounts purposely violating Twitter’s rules to see if they can push the limits of ‘free speech,’” said Bouzy.

According to a report from Bloomberg, one reason behind the rise of unsavoury Tweets could be because Musk limited access to content moderation tools to only 15 trust and safety team members instead of the several hundred that could remove posts with misinformation or hate speech.

“I believe if users continue to deactivate their accounts en masse, it will become a significant problem for the platform,” said Bouzy.

However, that’s not to say Twitter was any more successful before Musk’s takeover. Since becoming a publicly traded company in 2013, Twitter has only made a profit twice, in 2018 and 2019. And although they made USD$5 billion in revenue in 2021, most of it came from advertisers, which is becoming a sticking point for the company.

But even with the proposed subscription fee, it would mean only $17 million a year in extra revenue for Twitter, which is chump change compared to what Musk paid to purchase Twitter, and hardly a means to make a profit. And that’s without mentioning the massive layoffs since his takeover. Musk has also floated the idea of charging users to view videos on Twitter and even posted a poll asking users whether he should bring back Vine. The answer was an overwhelming yes, with 69.6 per cent (nice) of voters excited about the revival of the once cult-like social short-form video app.

But if claims that the company is losing over USD$4 million daily, this could be the end of Twitter, regardless of how much money the world’s richest man invests. And “if left-leaning and marginalised people leave the platform,” Bouzy reckons Twitter will be no different than Parler or Truth Social.  Whatever the future may hold for Twitter, it’s now in the hands of Elon Musk. Let that sink in.