Ever since Twitter announced its sale to Elon Musk, public figures have been seeing wild fluctuations in their follower counts on the platform—and the activity seems to be following partisan lines.
Popular conservative accounts have been gaining followers en masse: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has gained 130,000 followers since the Monday announcement, compared to 6,700 in the previous two days, according to the social media tracker SocialBlade. Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Fla. Governor Ron DeSantis have seen similar uncharacteristic jumps.
Conversely, progressive leaders have been shedding followers. Sen. Bernie Sanders lost 18,000 followers on Tuesday, marking the first day in April in which he lost followers as opposed to gaining them. Sen. Elizabeth Warren lost 14,000, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi lost nearly as many, according to SocialBlade.
The Verge collected SocialBlade data from the top 50 conservative and progressive Twitter accounts, and found that conservative accounts increased their follower counts ten times their usual daily rates, while popular progressive accounts collectively lost hundreds of thousands of followers.
Twitter released a statement saying that the fluctuations appeared to be organic. “We’ve been looking into recent fluctuations in follower counts. 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 statement read.” We’ll continue looking into these follower count fluctuations.”
In the days leading up to the deal’s approval, many Twitter users unhappy with Musk’s rhetoric threatened to quit the platform should he take control of it; #RIPTwitter trended on Tuesday. The data appears to suggest that many of these users followed through on their promises.
Conservatives, meanwhile, celebrated Musk’s deal, and argued that its announcement was drawing right-wing users back to the platform. “We (Patriots) have a lot of unfinished business left to settle on Twitter,” QAnon influencer “Qtah” wrote on Telegram, according to TIME’s Vera Bergengruen. Others made more unfounded claims: Donald Trump Jr. alleged that the wild swings were due to internal decisions made by Twitter to appease their new owner, who has touted freedom-of-speech protection as one of the key reasons for his purchase. Many conservatives believe that Twitter is secretly suppressing certain accounts to make them less popular through “shadow bans.” Conversely, a study from Indiana University Bloomington last year found evidence of pro-conservative bias on the platform.
But all of this movement is a bit premature, as Musk’s deal won’t be finalized until October; he can’t make any changes to the company or the way it operates until then. For now, he’s still a user like the rest of us—and he tweeted ten more times today, including his own theory for all the action: “Almost every media outlet on Earth wrote about me acquiring Twitter, causing a massive influx of new users,” he wrote.
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