A new study by Pew Research Center paints a picture of a lull in Twitter usage by American adults, but the data doesn’t necessarily point the finger at Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social media platform as the source of the blame. Instead, Pew’s survey of US adults, conducted over a week in March, reports that a majority of adult Twitter users in the US, or 60%, said they’ve taken a break from Twitter from using the service for “several weeks or longer” over the past year.
However, Elon Musk officially took over Twitter on October 27, 2022 – meaning the company has only been owned for more than six months, not a full year. In other words, whatever caused Twitter users to take long breaks from the app may or may not have something to do with the site’s new owner. And because Pew Research didn’t provide any historical data to compare against, it’s not clear if this was also a consistent pattern for Twitter users prior to this period.
Still, the data is interesting because it seemingly shows that for at least some of its users, Twitter hasn’t built such an addictive platform that has become a mandatory daily habit. Compared to Meta’s social apps, which now see 3.02 billion daily active users as of Q1, some Twitter users have been avoiding the app for a long time, if Pew’s data is to be believed. (The methodology is here and it involved over 10,000 respondents, if relevant.)
Pew’s further analysis may provide a clue as to why that is the case, noting that those who have previously taken a break from the app include both women and black users. Pew says 69% of women, compared to 54% of men, said they’ve taken a break from Twitter in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, 67% of black users said they took a break from the app, compared to 60% of white users and 54% of Hispanic users. (The survey data doesn’t include enough Asian-American Twitter users to provide a detailed analysis, the company noted.)
This could indicate that it’s not politics or age – groups that didn’t see significant differences – that are causing people to walk away from Twitter for a while. Rather, according to previous analysis and reports, including that of Amnesty International, it points to demographic groups that have historically been most exposed to harassment on the platform.
But Pew Research fails to prove that all of this is Musk specific debt, as the report looks at the past 12 months and not, say, a comparison of usage before Musk owned Twitter and after. If anything, this might suggest why Twitter has struggled all along to gain traction compared to its social media peers — because it’s never fully gotten a grip on the abuse that takes place on the app, despite the ever-evolving policies that is meant to do. only that.
In a separate study, also published today, Pew takes a look at Twitter’s possible future by asking current and recent Twitter users how likely they are to use the platform a year from now.
More people (40%) said they were “very” or “very likely” to do so, while 35% said “somewhat”.
Yet there was still a worrying quarter (25%) of Twitter’s current and recent users who said they were “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to use the app a year from now.
Again, the demographics from the earlier survey hold up here, as current or recent Twitter users who are men said they were more likely than women to say they will “probably” use the platform a year from now — or 47% vs. 31%.
Pew also found a partisan divide in terms of who sees themselves on Twitter in the future.
Current or recent users who are Republicans or Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they are “likely” to use the site a year from now — or 45% versus 36%. Republicans were also more likely to say it’s “extremely likely” they’d still be on Twitter, compared to Democrats — or 25% versus 17%.
None of this necessarily points to a decline in active Twitter users, as we don’t know how often it has been for users to “take breaks” in the past. But other surveys from last year had suggested this was happening. For example, a study covered by BuzzFeed News suggested that the number of Twitter users in the US had fallen by 9% since Musk’s acquisition. Another report from CompareWeb (via Vox) said that Twitter had more traffic in the pre-Musk era than in January 2023. It noted that year-over-year visitor growth fell from 4.7% in November 2022 to -2% in January 2023.
Musk refuted these claims in November, saying Twitter usage was at an “all-time high.” And more recently, Apptopia’s data seemingly backed up this statement, showing that Twitter’s daily active users grew from 229 million in Q1 2022 to an average of 246.8 million since October 2022, Digiday said in April, with an average average increase of 1.3 million new users every month. (This finding didn’t break things down by country, but the US is Twitter’s largest market).
In any case, what Pew’s data indicates isn’t how far Musk’s policies and the general chaos on Twitter have hurt US use of the app, but how far the company has to go to be the kind of app users do not. I don’t have to pause regularly.