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Numbers don’t lie. And in this case they tell a tale of Twitter’s continued demise under the misguided reign of Elon Musk. They also suggest a clear path out of this mess, one Musk is highly unlikely to take. 

According to data that researcher Travis Brown provided to Free Press, nearly a third of the tens of thousands of previously suspended accounts restored under Musk’s “general amnesty” has opted to subscribe to the Twitter Blue “verification” service. 

This is noteworthy as the rate of blue-check subscribers among Twitter’s general population of regular users is far lower — well below a half of one percent — according to research from Brown, who Twitter just banned

So what can we glean from this? 

First, it shows that Absolutist Elon is continuing to silence his critics. Brown has been doing legitimate research that provides useful data for academics and journalists about Twitter’s performance — something Musk has repeatedly tried to conceal.

Blue-checking bigotry

It also suggests that Musk is cozying up with people who were previously suspended under Twitter’s former content-moderation standards. While these pre-Musk standards were far from perfect, the platform at least had in place a team that dedicated itself to trust and safety issues.

The “amnestied” accounts include those belonging to neo-Nazis, anti-vaxxers, MAGA election deniers, Putin propagandists, trans- and homophobes, and misogynists — a relatively high percentage of them are now buying into Musk's blue-check regime. 

Their high subscriber rate has turned Musk in their favor, if his bigotry- and disinformation-laced tweets and replies are any indication. Musk seems to believe that Twitter’s path to success involves stoking the fires of the “hellscape” — and reaping the subscription rewards of its toxic protagonists. 

Throughout his tenure as “Chief Twit,” Musk has had several opportunities to right Twitter’s ship, including restoring the platform's content-moderation and election-integrity capacity. But he’s consistently chosen to do the opposite — catering to fellow right-wing reactionaries while alienating the advertisers that once accounted for about 90 percent of Twitter’s revenues. 

This approach has been disastrous for Twitter as a company. As we at Free Press have said repeatedly: Good content moderation is good business.

Sinking Twitter’s ship

And the data bear this out. Since Musk announced his bid to take over the platform more than a year ago, Twitter revenues have tanked — down about 60 percent over the year, according to reporting by The New York Times’ Ryan Mac and Tiffany Hsu.

This downturn has coincided with Twitter’s steady retreat from moderation, exposing Musk’s phony free-speech rhetoric as a cover for “perpetuating racism resulting in direct threats to communities [of color],” in the words of one McDonalds marketing exec

Other platforms have sensed Musk's vulnerability and rushed into the online space to provide alternatives. (See: Bluesky, Mastodon, Spill and Threads.) 

Some have been more successful than others at attracting a critical mass of users. Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Threads has surpassed 100 million new users since it launched last week.

And Twitter seems to be feeling its self-inflicted pain more and more. Recent press reports have the platform’s traffic in decline since July 5. Similarweb reports that Twitter’s web traffic was down 5 percent following the Threads launch, and down 11 percent compared to the same period last year. Cloudflare also reported that Twitter's audience size was in steady decline since the beginning of the year.

Despite the new challengers, the  question remains: Will these alternatives repeat Musk’s mistakes or will they learn a lesson from his many failures?

That lesson, again, is clear: Consistent and enforceable content-moderation is the key to social-media success. It's also good for democracy. Just look at the numbers.

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