- Billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk is buying Twitter for $44 billion.
- The purchase has become the latest battleground in America's ongoing culture wars.
- Republican politicians have seen spikes in new followers, while Democrats have seen major drops, which Twitter confirmed as "organic."
On Wednesday, "#LiberalMeltdown" was trending on Twitter — the latest sign that billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk's $44 billion purchase of the social media giant is the new battleground in America's ongoing culture wars.
There's even data to back it up: Several major Republican politicians have seen huge follower increases, while follower counts dropped dramatically for some Democratic politicians, NBC News first reported.
Former President Barack Obama, for instance, lost over 300,000 followers following the news of Musk's purchase, while former President Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. gained nearly 90,000 in one day — a huge spike over his account's normal follower growth. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene also saw a major spike in new followers on her official account (her personal account remains banned).
Twitter confirmed to NBC News that the user fluctuations were "organic" changes that "appear to largely be a result of an increase in new account creation and deactivation." In other words: A bunch of people quit Twitter, and a bunch of new accounts were created.
The fluctuations are most impactful to "high-profile" accounts, Twitter said, and they appear to be along politically and culturally divided lines.
Musician Katy Perry, who campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 and performed at the 2021 inaugural celebration for President Joe Biden, saw a major dropoff of over 200,000 followers.
Some Republican politicians are citing the user fluctuations as proof of their claims that social media companies censor their speech and artificially deprecate their accounts.
"It really is something how conservative accounts are getting massive follower increases today," Rep. Matt Gaetz said.
On his "Firebrand with Matt Gaetz" podcast on Tuesday, Gaetz went into more detail. "I've noticed an uptick in the last 48 hours," he said of his follower count. "I think the shadow-ban clasp may be coming off."
The term "shadow ban" originates from a time where internet communities primarily existed in individual, isolated web forums. Rather than outright ban a user, a forum moderator would "shadow" ban them. They could read posts, and even make their own as usual, but nobody else in the community could see their posts or even know that they tried to say something.
Former President Trump has claimed for years that Twitter and other social media services use shadow bans to censor Republicans.
A shift to the right?
Twitter's user base appears to be shifting politically to the right as a result of the news that Elon Musk is buying the company.
This is no doubt due to Musk's stance on free speech.
Musk has repeatedly called himself a "free speech absolutist," and was critical of Twitter's decision to ban former President Trump's account due to the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021.
Musk clarified what that will mean for Twitter this week.
"By 'free speech,' I simply mean that which matches the law," he said. "I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people."
Gaetz echoed Musk's sentiment in his podcast this week.
"Really what we stand for is free speech," he said. "I believe in an America that's strong enough to face disinformation without the Twitter overlords being the arbiters of truth."
On the flipside, Democrats have repeatedly argued that social-media companies should do more to moderate disinformation, misinformation, hate speech, and language that calls for violence.
In a recent speech at Stanford on disinformation, former President Barack Obama called out these issues directly.
"Search and social media platforms aren't just our window into the internet; they serve as our primary source of news and information," he said. "No one tells us that the window is blurred, subject to unseen distortions and subtle manipulations. All we see is a constant feed of content where useful factual information and happy diversions...flow alongside lies, conspiracy theories, junk science, quackery, white supremacist, racist tracts, [and] misogynist screeds."
In the days since the acquisition was announced, Musk has used his Twitter account to speak about his company SpaceX, to highlight that Twitter is second to Trump's Truth Social app on the iPhone App Store, and to amplify criticism from far-right personalities about current Twitter executives.
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