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Elon Musk drove more than a million people to Mastodon – but many aren’t sticking around


The number of active users on the Mastodon social network has dropped more than 30% since the peak and is continuing a slow decline, according to the latest data posted on its website. There were about 1.8 million active users in the first week of January, down from over 2.5 million in early December.

Mastodon, an open-source network of largely independently hosted servers, has often been touted as an alternative to Twitter. And its growth appears connected to controversies at Twitter. But for many it doesn’t fulfil the role that Twitter did and experts say it may be too complicated to really replace it.

“Twitter, in its most basic form is simple,” Meg Coffey, a social media strategist, said. “You can open up an app or open up a website, type some words, and you’re done. I mean, it was [a] basic SMS platform.”

There were about 500,000 active Mastodon users before Elon Musk took control of Twitter at the end of October. By mid-November, that number climbed to almost 2 million active users.

Graph showing number of active users on Mastodon servers that have logged in over the previous 30 days. The number peaks at 2.6 million around November/December 2022.

“Right around that 5 November, it was a real opportunity,” Coffey said. “There were a lot of people who were scared, a lot of people who … didn’t want to be in the place Twitter was becoming.

“I’m big about mute and block … and so my Twitter is fantastic. It’s a really wonderful place. But I know for a lot of other people it’s not. And so I can understand that they wanted to find a place that is less toxic or less harmful.”

The surge in new Mastodon users continued throughout November, peaking at over 130,000 new users a day. The upticks often coincided with controversial decisions made by Elon Musk.

This included decisions to fire thousands of Twitter staff, to change verification policies, reinstate Donald Trump’s Twitter account, and to suspend journalists who had reported on Musk – though there are several other scandals that do not fit into this timeline.

Data from Mastodon shows an uptick in users correlating with controversial decisions at Twitter.
Data from Mastodon shows an uptick in users correlating with controversial decisions at Twitter.

Data from Google suggests there was also a surge in searches for Mastodon in April 2022, around the time Musk announced he had become Twitter’s largest shareholder.

Coffey notes that there have been several successful new social networks. Most of them were simple to use and let you build a community, like the photo sharing app BeReal; others, like the social audio network Clubhouse, were too exclusive to get going.

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“Clubhouse had this amazing opportunity,” she said. “They had this captive audience, but they didn’t deal with the onboarding of users in the right way. And it gave other platforms and opportunity to jump on them.”

For many, Mastodon may have proved too hard to port over their communities and was just too complicated. Some may have gone back to Twitter, while others, said Coffey, may have dropped social media entirely.

“Everybody went and signed up [on Mastodon] and realised how hard it was, and then got back on Twitter and were like, ‘Oh, that’s, that’s hard. Maybe we won’t go there,’” she said.

“It’s like the people that said ‘I’m moving to Canada’ when Donald Trump was elected. They never actually moved to Canada.”



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