A significant chunk of Elon Musk’s more than 153 million followers on X appear to be fake, or at the very least inactive on the platform formerly known as Twitter. Mashable just published a detailed analysis of Musk’s followers, based on data collected by third-party researcher Travis Brown.
Musk’s over 153 million followers make up more than a quarter of the 540 million “monthly users” that Musk claimed are now on X as of late July. And, if you question the legitimacy of Musk’s numbers, his followers make up more than half of the “monthly active users” that Twitter said it had in the months before Musk acquired the platform.
While the scope of this report was limited to Musk’s followers, it’s impossible not to use that data to look at the platform as a whole through the lens of Musk’s account. As we previously stated, Musk’s high follower count basically means that Musk’s account is a microcosm of the entire platform.
Monthly users vs. monthly active users
A quick summary of some of Musk’s follower data for those who haven’t read the more detailed report: Just over 42 percent of Musk’s more than 153 million followers have 0 followers. More than 40 percent have zero tweets posted on their account. Around 40 percent of Musk’s followers also follow less than 10 users. This points to a few things. Many of these accounts can be fake accounts or bots. Also, many of these accounts can simply belong to inactive users or people who set up an account and rarely if ever return.
If Musk’s follower count can be extrapolated to represent X as a whole, then that paints a very bleak picture for the platform and how many real, active users it actually has.
Monthly and daily active user counts are the industry standard for measuring the size of an online platform. Keyword: active. Brands and ad campaign managers routinely gauge the value of digital ad buys by just how many potential eyeballs will see their ads. (And, of course, conversion rates based on those views are factored in too.) Since Musk took over, X’s ad revenue struggles have been frequently reported on. The platform lost half of its largest advertisers as a result of how Musk has run the platform. While some have returned, ad revenue is still significantly down. And, just this week, a few more advertisers jumped ship after their ads appeared aside neo-Nazi content.
Regardless, if the potential customer base is still on the platform, some advertisers will obviously look beyond the issues and try to reach them. So those user numbers are important. But, are they accurately describing active users? It’s unclear, especially after looking at the accounts following Musk. But it has been noticeable, at least on our end, that Musk has dropped that keyword “active” when reporting X’s user counts.
Musk’s X user base claims aren’t adding up
X has been around for nearly two decades now (under the name Twitter for most of that time), yet Musk’s most recent “monthly users” claim is more than double the “monthly active users” number that the company reported right before Musk’s takeover. If more than 250 million users joined X in the 10 months that Musk has been in charge, as opposed to anytime over the prior 17 years, it stands to reason that Musk was an important factor in their decision to join, and that a significant number of them would be following Musk. According to our report on Musk’s followers, more than 25 percent — or 38.9 million — of Musk’s followers joined the platform after he acquired the company in October. That’s a large chunk of Musk’s followers. Yet, that 38.9 million represents less than 14 percent of the new users that Musk is claiming X has. Something isn’t adding up.
When Musk acquired the company, X’s new owner made a big deal about removing fake accounts and bots on the platform. Musk himself suspected that Twitter had drastically underreported the number of fake accounts when he agreed to buy the company. It’s literally the reason he cited when he tried to back out but was later forced to go through with the acquisition.
One of Musk’s first moves after the acquisition was to completely rebuild the platform’s verification system in his vision, removing legacy verified users, and turning the feature into a paid subscription. All the while, Musk claimed that these moves were part of his core strategic decisions to facilitate a platform with only real active users. However, another recent report by Mashable on X Premium, Musk’s paid subscription service formerly known as Twitter Blue, found that there are just around 830,000 subscribers.
Now, clearly there are more than 830,000 real users on X. Just how many more, though, is anyone’s guess. Musk’s “monthly user” claims certainly seem inflated. And his followers, or really the millions of inactive accounts following him, are telling a whole different story.