Interest in alternative social media platforms like former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social and the open-source Mastodon has surged in recent days, following Elon Musk’s successful bid for Twitter.
And, surprisingly, Twitter is benefitting, too.
Data from two app-tracking companies found many social media apps have quickly climbed the charts.
Mastodon, which hosts various social communities that can create their own rules and guidelines, jumped 459 spots in the Apple App Store rankings, to No. 31 on the free app chart. Truth Social, which has struggled since its launch in February, climbed 170 positions in the Apple App Store rankings to become the No. 1 free app.
Twitter said this week that it was seeing some account closures, with some mainstream accounts losing thousands of followers, while conservative accounts have enjoyed an influx. But Twitter has seen its own uptick, moving from the No. 35 spot in the App Store to the No. 2 spot, according to Sensor Tower, a company that tracks apps.
While App Store ranking isn’t completely based on the number of downloads — it also includes consideration of how often an app is being used — Twitter saw the most installs of any day in the last month on Tuesday, a day after Twitter’s board announced that it would accept Musk’s purchase offer, according to Sensor Tower data.
The population shifts in social media’s digital landscape illustrate the increasingly polarized and politicized tech ecosystem, where splinter apps have quickly gained and lost popularity based on their perceived political affiliation or lack thereof. Experts say a more fractured digital landscape may be our new reality.
“The notion that you can make one algorithm and one space that works for people in hundreds of different countries and thousands of different cultures is on its face untenable,” said Eli Pariser, a digital media pioneer and critic who coined the term “filter bubble” and now leads New_ Public, an organization devoted to creating healthy public digital spaces. “This moment with Elon coming in is kind of pushing that to a breaking point.”
Part of Truth Social’s growth could be attributed to the app’s CEO Devin Nunes announcing that waitlists to access the app would finally be cleared following its rocky February rollout. The app also received a wave of attention after Trump said he wouldn’t be rejoining Twitter even if given the opportunity by Musk, and would instead be on Truth Social, where he currently has an inactive account.
Gettr, a Twitter alternative that’s led by former Trump adviser Jason Miller, has also enjoyed a bump, climbing 71 spots in the Apple App store in the last week. Miller said in a text message that sign-ups were up 70 percent on Wednesday, and U.S. sign-ups were up 323 percent.
Miller explained his thoughts on the rise, saying in a message that “many have no desire to return to Twitter, and as they see the lefties meltdown over Musk, they want to explore saner options.” The idea of leaving Twitter in protest of Musk has become a talking point on the platform, and a reality for some who disagree with Musk’s stated aversion to proactive platform moderation of hate speech and misinformation that isn’t lawbreaking.
Mastodon, an apolitical decentralized platform, could be appealing now because there’s no centralized ethos applied to speech, and instead, individual communities create their own standards, Pariser said.
“A move toward smaller spaces where more people actually get to be heard and where people can also have more governance over what the speech norms are may be beneficial in some ways,” he said.
Natalie Stroud, a professor of communications studies at the University of Texas at Austin, said the turmoil that Musk has created at Twitter is already rippling across the social media industry.
“I think that there is a growing movement for new options in the social media space and a recognition that different platforms satisfy different needs,” she said. “If the experience of Twitter changes dramatically, this opens the door for people to change their habits and find new places to allocate their time.”