Twitter seeing 'record user engagement'? The data tells a different story

A quarter of Twitter users said they 'are not very or not at all likely to be on Twitter a year from now.'
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
broken Twitter
Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Despite Twitter's owner Elon Musk's slashing of Twitter's workforce, Twitter is still a going concern. But as a former Twitter employee said: "You can blow both engines on a jet, and the jet is still going to glide.

So far, Twitter's glide has amounted to an 18.7% traffic decline as of March 2023, according to the web analysis site Similarweb. True, Musk told the BBC that Twitter was seeing record user engagement and that major advertisers were returning. But as David F. Carr, Similarweb senior insights manager, said bluntly: "We're not seeing it."

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By Similarweb's count, Twitter saw a 7.7% traffic year-over-year drop in March alone. In addition, Twitter's unique visitor web count dropped 3.3% year over year in March. The Twitter Android app's average daily active users were down 9.8% in March, with monthly active users down 8% year over year. Within the US, monthly active users were down 14% on Android and 15% on iOS. 

Similarweb isn't the only organization with numbers showing Twitter might be in trouble. Apptopia mobile-application tracking shows users spending less time on Twitter's apps, and it's particularly concerning that Twitter's power users are spending less time on its apps as well. 

The numbers don't get any better in a recent Pew Research Group Twitter user survey. Pew found most Twitter users had taken a break from the social network at some time during the past year. Looking ahead, a quarter of users said, "They are not very or not at all likely to be on Twitter a year from now."

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Meanwhile, Twitter's revenue isn't gliding down -- it's crashing. While new Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino has brought back some big-brand advertisers, such as Disney, Microsoft, and the NBA, Twitter's ad revenue continues to collapse. Internal memos covered by the New York Times found that in the five weeks from April 1 to the first week of May 2023, Twitter's ad revenue was down 59% from the previous year.

So, what's driving this decline in user numbers and revenues? According to the Dewey Square Group, a 30-year-old public affairs group, Twitter's slow fall has been fueled by new policies, user fees, mass layoffs, persistent technical glitches, and Musk's own controversial online behavior. 

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The result? A noticeable number of users are quietly quitting Twitter and exploring other platforms. 

Some users have been driven away by Twitter dropping its Blue verification of user accounts for a new subscription feature. The new Twitter Blue has opened the door for the creation of fraudulent accounts. Its new features, such as support for long-form videos, have been used to share copyrighted films and full-length neo-Nazi videos. This kind of content is unlikely to encourage advertisers to open their wallets. 

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Dewey Square also observed that Twitter has been allowing banned users to return, which significantly aided in the growth and flourishing of hate speech and false information. 

This shift has been popular with some Twitter Blue customers. But despite Twitter removing free features, such as text-based Two Factor Authentication (2FA), and making them paid, Twitter Blue-only features, just a mere 0.02% of Twitter users have signed up for the service. The voices of Twitter Blue subscribers are amplified, but their numbers remain tiny. 

Users who are leaving Twitter have been going to emerging entrants like BlueSky with its private beta, and Substack Notes, which launched after Musk briefly forbade mentions of the platform. Many users are considering a switch to Mastodon, which continues to grow. Meta's forthcoming open ActivityPub-interoperable service, codenamed "Barcelona" or "Project 92", is expected to launch this summer, adding to the social network choices for Twitter refugees.

Also: Meta is developing a 'sanely run' Twitter alternative: Here's what we know

None of these platforms, even brand-new social networks, such as T2, founded by former Twitter employees Sarah Oh and Gabor Cselle, have shown themselves strong enough yet to replace Twitter. But some of these tools -- such as Bluesky, with about two million users on its waiting list -- show potential to displace a slumping Twitter. 

Another emerging pattern that's not helping Twitter is developer migration. Software developers are leaving Twitter in significant numbers, with Mastodon and BlueSky appearing to be the primary beneficiaries. 

Twitter's decision to abandon its open-source projects probably didn't help stem developer flight. Besides getting rid of its own internal engineers, the open-source community was left with a bad taste in its mouth. Twitter's shutdown of free open APIs led to the closure of many popular third-party Twitter apps and disillusioned developers. 

Also: Ditching Twitter? How to get started with Mastodon

Last, but by no means least, the reduction of Twitter's workforce to less than 2,000 staffers -- which is down from 7,500 when Musk took over -- has left the company struggling to maintain its own software. The result has been numerous small problems, leaving disgruntled customers in their wake. 

It's hard to imagine how Twitter can reverse its slow crash into irrelevance. 

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