New Delhi: The ‘free speech absolutist’ Elon Musk has managed to shift the dynamics of Twitter just before the all-crucial 2022 midterm elections in the US, taking a sort of revenge against Indian-origin CEO Parag Agrawal and its legal head Vijaya Gadde, who tried to make the platform free of hate speech by banning former US President Donald Trump and similar conservative voices.
Musk’s intention is increasingly becoming clear: To bring back more right-wing voices on the platform as the midterm elections inch closer, with help from his billionaire friends like former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.
A Washington Post analysis of hundreds of Twitter accounts has found that right-leaning accounts, including Republican members of Congress, received a surge in followers since the deal was announced last month, even as their Democratic counterparts’ followings decreased.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson saw his followers count jump by more than 230,000 — a nearly 5 per cent increase — since April 25 when Musk’s $44 billion Twitter deal was announced.
Donald Trump Jr. gained nearly 600,000 followers (up 8 per cent), taking his follower count to over 8.1 million.
Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) followers on Twitter increased by more than 300,000 in less than three weeks.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) gained nearly 250,000 followers during that same time-frame, the Washington Post report said on Friday.
In the same time-frame, Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) lost more than 8,500 followers.
Rep Maxine Waters (D-California) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) also lost nearly 11,000 and 6,000 followers, respectively.
This is happening when Musk is yet to take control of the platform and one can imagine the kind of discourse that will come our way once the deal is through.
The data is an indication of how Musk’s leadership as a “free speech absolutist” could shape the future of the social network.
The Twitter takeover right before the 2022 midterms can re-shape the national political debate.
“It definitely says something about the possible future of Twitter. You’re going to see a spike in conservative users,” Darren Linvill, an associate professor at the Clemson University Media Forensics Hub in the US, was quoted as saying.
A Twitter spokesperson said in a statement that while “we continue to take action on accounts that violate our spam policy which can affect follower counts, these fluctuations appear to largely have been a result of an increase in new account creation and deactivation”.
The truth is: The conservatives are looking at Musk’s takeover as an invitation to return to the micro-blogging platform.
Look at Musk’s own count of followers in the last couple of days.
The Tesla CEO had around 83 million followers before the Twitter deal. Today, he has around 93 million followers — a massive jump of 10 million followers in just 20 days!
Accounts of conservatives have seen a sudden influx in the number of followers, while liberals have lost out on followers after news broke that the tech billionaire has bought Twitter in a $44 billion deal.
In the span of two days since the deal was finalised, influential conservative accounts saw a surge in their follower counts at about 10 times the average daily rate for the month leading up to the acquisition, according to data compiled by The Verge from social media statistics site Social Blade.
On the other hand, popular liberal accounts saw a decline, facing a collective loss in hundreds of thousands of followers on April 25 and 26 after a month of gains.
“The shifts appear to be an organic reaction to the news of Twitter takeover, with users either joining or leaving the platform in anticipation of Musk’s ownership,” the report had mentioned.
Working with Twitter since 2011, she has been a key executive charged with overseeing the microblogging platform’s trust and safety, legal and public policy functions.
Musk slammed her for suspending the account of the New York Post. During the run-up to the 2020 US presidential elections, the Post wrote an exclusive article about Hunter Biden’s laptop. The article has since been verified by many outlets which had initially dismissed the report as misinformation.
“Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organisation for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate,” Musk said in a tweet-reply.
Gadde was in tears at a team meet soon afer Musk’s Twitter takeover news broke. At a meeting with the legal and policy teams, she had an emotional moment when she expressed uncertainty about the future.
Currently, a defiant Agrawal is locked in a Twitter war with Musk after firing consumer product leader Kayvon Beykpour and head of revenue product Bruce Falck to “take the team in a different direction”.
Stressing that “no one at Twitter is working just to keep the lights on”, he said that a lot has happened over the past several weeks.
“I’ve been focused on the company and haven’t said much publicly during this time, but I will now,” he said in a tweet thread.
On the $44 billion Musk deal, he said: “While I expect the deal to close, we need to be prepared for all scenarios and always do what’s right for Twitter. I’m accountable for leading and operating Twitter, and our job is to build a stronger Twitter every day.”
The days ahead for Twitter brings uncertainty as the conservatives keep returning to the micro-blogging platform, in a hope that Musk will give Trump America another chance to push its agenda on the most powerful social media platform to reshape political opinions.
Agrawal and the team have a real tough battle ahead as Musk begins counting fake and spammy accounts on Twitter after putting the $44 billion deal temporarily on hold.