Environmental Users Migrating Away from Elon Musk’s X Platform, Researchers Find

Illustration of a flock of bluebirds and the letter X

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has not only seen the bluebird logo go extinct—about half of Twitter users who regularly engaged in environmental discussions have flown the coop.

A research team led by Charlotte Chang, assistant professor of biology and environmental analysis at Pomona College, found that in the six months following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter—now known as X—nearly half of Twitter users identified as environmentally oriented had ceased being active on the platform. These active users, which the researchers called “Environmental Twitter,” were defined as posting on the topic at least once in a 15-day period.

The research “directly builds on our previous work examining Environmental Twitter, where we found six different personas based on interests in biodiversity conservation, public lands or climate change mitigation,” Chang explains. “We saw that there was a vibrant community engaging in discourse around environmental topics. This then raised the question of how this community may be impacted by changes to Twitter’s governance.”

The team compared Twitter use among 380,000 environmentally oriented Twitter users to a 458,000-user control group of those who used the platform to discuss the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Among these users, dubbed “Politics Twitter,” the drop-off was much less pronounced at only 20.6%. The research was published on August 15 in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

“Twitter has been the dominant social media platform for diverse environmental interests to communicate and organize around advocacy goals, exchange ideas and research and new opportunities for collaboration,” the authors wrote. Currently there is nothing on the horizon to replace it, putting at risk robust idea-sharing on topics such as extreme weather disaster responses, preservation of biodiversity and climate change.

To prevent a decline in information-sharing and public mobilization around environmental issues, Chang and the research team recommend tracking and reporting what platforms—Threads and Mastodon are two candidates—are attracting support among environmental users. They also urge coordinated presentation of concerns to X and to those in charge of forming government policy. They also emphasize the efforts of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research.

Chang says that the research took place between December 2022 and May 2023. It was supported in part by a grant from the Society for Conservation Biology and the Cedar Tree Foundation.