Twitter is lagging behind its rivals. Here’s why Elon Musk bought it anyway.

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On Monday, Elon Musk agreed to buy Twitter for $ 44 billion, which did good for an offer that was met with skepticism by a large section of the investor community when he launched his hostile takeover bid.

This is partly because, in the numbers, Twitter is hardly the most successful – or even the most influential – social media platform on the market. TikTok has more than 600 million monthly users and is growing exponentially as the platform chosen by young people, according to estimates from Insider Intelligence. Facebook, while stagnating, has more than 2 billion monthly users and is virtually synonymous with the Internet in some places.

Twitter had a humble 338.6 million monthly global users last year according to estimates. And while politicians, journalists, and celebrities – and even Musk, with more than 84 million followers – use it as a megaphone, it’s not the most significant platform globally.

Why did Elon Musk buy Twitter?

Musk, a billionaire who heads the electric car company Tesla and the space company SpaceX, has claimed that he was motivated to buy Twitter out of concern that the company had imposed overly aggressive moderation practices on content that he said threatened “freedom of speech” on a platform, that had become crucial to politics and government.

“Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital urban space where issues crucial to the future of humanity are discussed,” Musk said in the press release announcing his purchase.

Twitter declined to comment. Musk did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, the company has an elite and dedicated audience. Among the users who regularly visit Twitter, only a handful of them are responsible for the vast majority of the content displayed on the social network.

The most active quarter of adult Twitter users in the United States produced almost all of the content of all adult users in the country, according to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center. This means that 75 percent of adult Twitter users in the United States hardly tweet.

The majority of the most productive users visit Twitter daily, and more than 20 percent of them say they visit the site “too many times to count” every day, according to Pew.

Elon Musk buys Twitter for about $ 44 billion

“The thing about Twitter is that it’s actually a pretty demanding platform,” said Ethan Porter, an Assistant Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. “In other words, to really participate on Twitter, you have to be a really active Twitter user, and the number of people who have jobs that allow them to be active Twitter users is pretty small.”

  • Barack Obama (132 million followers; 16,463 tweets)
  • Justin Bieber (114 million followers; 31,399 tweets)
  • Katy Perry (109 million followers; 11,628 tweets)
  • Rihanna (106 million followers; 10,627 tweets)
  • Cristiano Ronaldo (99 million followers; 3,781 tweets)
  • Taylor Swift (90 million followers; 716 tweets)
  • Lady Gaga (85 million followers; 9,745 tweets)
  • Elon Musk (84 million followers; 17,539 tweets)
  • Narendra Modi (78 million followers; 32,603 ​​tweets)
  • “The Ellen Show” (78 million followers; 23,822 tweets)

Experts said Musk is not wrong to target Twitter if he wants to have an impact on public discourse. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. Twitter users say they get news from the social media network, according to Pew. The vast majority of these Twitter news consumers say they have used the social network to follow live events, Pews’ report found.

Although their tweets only reach an elite audience on the social media network, politicians, companies and activists often rely on the platform to broaden the news agenda.

Perhaps no public figure has been more effective at dominating the larger media ecosystem through Twitter than Donald Trump. A recent report by the anti-misinformation group First Draft showed that the three major cable networks – MSNBC, Fox News and CNN – showed 1,954 of Trump’s tweets, representing 32 hours of broadcast time between January 1, 2020 and January 19, 2021.

Trump says he will not join Twitter again. Some advisers do not believe him.

Perhaps the biggest question Musk faces as the new owner of Twitter is what he wants to do about Trump. The former president – who was one of the most followed users on the platform – was started up after his tweets in the run-up and aftermath of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US capital.

While it is unclear how Musk can relate to the Trump ban, he said at a TED conference this month that he would be “very careful” with permanent bans and prefer timeouts.

“Trump had a relationship with Twitter where he was really good at using the platform to get attention in his presidential campaign and then through the end of his presidency,” Porter said. “If people’s views on Trump have changed permanently, then it’s easy to predict a post-Musk Twitter where Trump still has access to the site, but is simply less influential.”

But for years, analysts have argued that Twitter could do better – especially to make money.

After activist investor Elliott Management took a stake in the company in 2020, Twitter announced ambitious goals to grow its business, including increasing user growth and doubling its annual revenue by 2023. To address these issues, newly installed Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal promised to move more rapidly releasing products and introducing new management systems.

Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover, explained

There was a good reason he wanted to change course. Last year, the Facebook core app earned nearly $ 70 billion in advertising revenue – more than 15 times the amount Twitter earned during the same period, according to estimates by Insider Intelligence. Estimates from Insider Intelligence are based, among other things, on data from analysis companies, public authorities and public companies.

Many investors – including some from Musk’s Tesla – have said they are excited to see how he may be able to turn the company’s financial results around.

Musk said at the TED conference this month that his bid on Twitter was not about making money. Tesla’s CEO is devoting a significant portion of his fortune to supporting the deal.

“My strong intuitive sense is that it is extremely important for the future of civilization to have a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive. I do not care about the economy at all,” he said.

Rachel Lerman contributed to this report.

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