26 Apr

Sudden increase in Twitter followers draws attentions after purchase of the platform by Elon Musk

Updated 3 de May, 2022 at 9:12 am

  • After attempting to migrate to other platforms such as Parler, Gettr and Gab, conservative group celebrates “return” to Twitter and is hopeful for the recovery of “freedom of speech”;
  • Around 11% of profiles engaged in the debate made ironic remarks expressing concern that Elon Musk might act in an authoritative way, blocking accounts and allowing hate speech;
  • High increase in the number of followers of conservative profiles was associated with the purchase of the platform.

The news of the purchase of Twitter by the entrepreneur Elon Musk on April 25 was a hot topic on social networks. Between 6am on Monday (25) and 2pm and Tuesday (26), there were 418.8 thousand posts on Twitter regarding the topic, according to a study by the Department of Public Policy Analysis at Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV DAPP). The debate reached its peak engagement on Monday at 5pm, with 35.2 thousand mentions to the topic. The highlight at that moment was the amount paid by Elon Musk to acquire the social network: 44 billion dollars.

Evolution of the debate on Twitter about the purchase of the platform
Period: April 25 at 6am until April 26 at 2pm

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

Of the five major hashtags in the debate, three mentioned either the purchase, Musk or the platform: #elonmusk, in 4.6 thousand tweets; #elonmuskbuytwitter, in 4.4 thousand tweets, and #twitter, in 1.8 thousand tweets. However, the other two hashtags highlighted opinions about the purchase: #liberdade (freedom) ‒ with 3.4 thousand mentions ‒, indicating that the Twitter purchase by Musk would ensure freedom of speech to its users, and #riptwitter ‒ with 1.7 thousand mentions ‒, in posts claiming that the entrepeneur would turn the platform into “no man’s land”.

General debate

Map of interactions about the debate on Twitter about the purchase of the platform
Period: April 25 at 6am until April 26 at 2pm

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

Blue ‒ 37.21% of profiles | 54.87% of interactions
Group composed of bloggers, digital influencers and profiles of comic pages of the right-wing group, commenting on rumors that conservative profiles on Twitter allegedly increased significantly in terms of followers after the platform was purchased by Elon Musk. Many profiles also commented on statements made by the entrepreneur emphasizing the importance of freedom of speech in order to ensure democracy. Lastly, there were posts making ironic remarks about the Supreme Court subpoenaing Jair Bolsonaro regarding Musk’s decision or about Congress representatives attempting to ask the Supreme Court to intervene regarding the purchase.

Orange ‒ 9.98% of profiles | 8.14% of interactions
Group mobilized by comic profiles, scholars and left-wing politicians who were concerned with the Twitter purchase by Elon Musk. The criticism included posts about the allegedly absurd amount paid in the negotiation, comparing it to issues related to global income inequality, posts questioning users who defend the entrepreneur, and posts threatening to exclude their Twitter accounts.

Yellow ‒ 6.10% of profiles | 4.78% of interactions
Group mobilizing university students, common users and entertainment pages making ironic comments about the Twitter purchase by Elon Musk, joking about the platform’s “human authentication” and constantly mentioning the potential destruction of a healthy and happy platform.

Pink ‒ 5.97% of profiles | 4.20% of interactions
Group composed of journalists, professors and writers calling attention to potential changes on the platform due to it being purchase by a billionaire. The posts emphasized the fact that the amount paid by Elon Musk could end world hunger and indicated an alleged attempt to threaten minority groups, since “defending freedom of speech” on the platform could mean reproducing the ideological bias of the new owner of Twitter, and consequently having control over the narratives circulating in society.

Lilac ‒ 5.15% of profiles | 3.78% of interactions
Group composed of journalists, comic profiles and digital influencers focusing on sharing memes (including many pessimistic ones) regarding the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk. The posts indicated that Musk, having domain over the platform, could start acting in an authoritative way, imposing sanctions on accounts that displease him and allowing the circulation of dangerous discourse under the pretext of freedom of speech. Some posts also showed surprise regarding the amount involved in the transaction.

Major tweets inside the groups in the map of interactions
Period: April 25 at 6am until April 26 at 2pm

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

Profile performance

Without demonstrating any causality links, some Twitter users alleged their profiles had a significant increase in followers after the platform was purchase by the entrepreneur Elon Musk on April 25. The relevant users in the debate that called attention to this fact are aligned with the government support group.

Variation of followers in select profiles on Twitter
Period: March 24 at midnight until April 26 at 2pm

Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

One of these profiles is the former Tourism minister @gilsonmachadont. In the last month, from March 24 to April 24, the average variation in the number of followers in his Twitter profile was 406 profiles per day. On April 26, the former minister gained 8,922 followers. The same happened to the Senator @flaviobolsonaro and to the comedian @cariocadelegado, who averaged 1221 and -32 new followers between March 24 and April 24, but saw peaks of new followers on April 26 of 13,533 and 13,541, respectively. The peaks of new followers in the profiles of Gilson Machado, Flavio Bolsonaro and the comedican Carioca were 22, 11 and 418 times higher than the averages seen between March 24 and April 24, respectively.

Profiles aligned with the left-wing did not see a significant variation. One example was the page @desmentindobozo, which averaged 537 new followers between March 24 and April 24 and a peak of 433 on April 25. The same happened to the congressman Paulo Pimenta (PT-RS), who averaged 322 new followers between March 24 and April 24 and a peak of 345 on April 25.

*We selected five right-wing profiles that formally stated on their Twitter accounts that they saw a significant increase in the number of followers on the platform. For comparison, we selected the five left-wing profiles with the highest level of engagement identified in the report prepared by FGV DAPP on April 7, 2022.

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