Conservatives on Twitter are celebrating a potential turning of the tide in the wake of Elon Musk’s deal to buy the social media platform–and many of them this week are heralding the departure of liberal users by mockingly tweeting trending hashtags like #ByeTwitter and #LeavingTwitter.
“Prepare for blue check mark full scale meltdown after @elonmusk seals the deal and I should get my personal Twitter account restored,” tweeted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal account was permanently suspended earlier this year for spreading COVID-19 misinformation.
Musk’s $44 billion deal with Twitter has led to increased speculation over whether the billionaire Tesla CEO, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” plans to reinstate the accounts of prominent conservatives like Greene and, most notably, former President Donald Trump on the social media site. Musk’s purchase, which won’t be finalized until October, has also left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the fate of Trump’s own alternative social platform, TRUTH Social.
TRUTH Social did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment on how a Musk-owned Twitter, with fewer speech restraints and less content moderation might affect the growth of its service. TRUTH is aiming to attract Trump supporters and people who are unhappy with crackdowns on hate, harassment, and misinformation on services like Twitter, but it has struggled to lure subscribers.
What has Trump said about Musk buying Twitter?
Following the announcement of Musk’s deal on Monday, Trump told Fox News that, regardless of Musk’s takeover, he will not return to Twitter after being permanently banned “due to the risk of further incitement of violence” following the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The former president said he will instead remain on TRUTH Social, a free-speech-centric platform he created last fall under the umbrella of his new media company, Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG).
“I am not going on Twitter, I am going to stay on TRUTH,” Trump said the day the deal was announced. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll make improvements to it and he is a good man, but I am going to be staying on TRUTH.”
How is Musk’s deal affecting TRUTH Social?
Monday’s news was followed by a spike in downloads for both TRUTH Social and Twitter. Forbes reports that, before the deal was announced, TRUTH Social was ranked 52nd on Apple’s App download chart while Twitter was 39th. By Tuesday, TRUTH Social had shot to the top of the chart, with Twitter following behind at No. 2. Downloads of TRUTH Social surged to 75,000 for the week of April 18-25, a 150% increase from the week before, according to data from app metrics platform Sensor Tower.
But a “brief flurry of interest” in TRUTH Social isn’t a predictor of overall success, says Jonathan Nagler, co-director of NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics. He says the platform’s lengthy waitlist, reported to be nearing 1.5 million people earlier this month, could deter users from returning to TRUTH Social after they sign up.
“There might be a day where there’s a relatively high number of downloads,” he says. “But if people setting up accounts aren’t getting access to the app, is it worth their time to go back and try again?”
What does TRUTH Social’s future look like?
Renewed enthusiasm for Twitter among right-wing users could bode ill for TRUTH Social at a precarious moment for the platform, which was designed to be the “first major rival to ‘Big Tech.’”
The news already seems to be redirecting the attention of those users back to Twitter, with NBC News reporting that follower counts for some Twitter accounts on the political right, including Greene’s, skyrocketed after reports of Musk’s deal surfaced.
Since its Feb. 21 debut, TRUTH Social has been plagued by reports of technical glitches, outages, and an extensive waitlist to join the site. Ahead of the recent upswing, downloads of the app declined nearly 97% from the week following the site’s launch to the week of April 11-18, according to Sensor Tower. Two key executives, chief technology officer Josh Adams and head of product development Billy Boozer, also resigned from the company.
Meanwhile, Trump himself has only posted once on TRUTH, where his 1.89 million follower count is a fraction of the size of his peak Twitter following of more than 80 million. “Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon!” he wrote in February.
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter initially seemed to spell financial trouble for TRUTH. Shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp., the special purpose acquisition company set up to take TMTG public, plunged 13% after news of the sale broke on Monday, continuing a sharp slide that’s seen the blank check company lose nearly a third of its value since the beginning of the year.
Despite TRUTH’s challenges, Trump further explained to Fox why he has no intention of rejoining Twitter. “[TRUTH is] taking in millions of people, and what we’re finding is that the response on TRUTH is much better than being on Twitter,” he said. “The bottom line is, no, I am not going back to Twitter.”
If Trump is allowed back on Twitter, his best bet to jumpstart TRUTH Social might be to use his “megaphone” on Twitter to promote his own site, Nagler says.
“He could use Twitter for one day to tell all the people who follow him, ‘Go to TRUTH Social. I’m really there,’” Nagler says. “Maybe that would drive enough people to TRUTH Social that it would become large enough for people to find a reason to be there.”
Trump said on Monday that he will begin posting more “TRUTHs” over the next week. But whether that will be enough to invigorate the platform remains to be seen. “We’re dealing with a lot of maybes,” says Nagler. “What this ultimately means for TRUTH Social is a bit opaque.”
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