It's a Lonely World: The Median Twitter User Has 1 Measly Follower

And is surrounded by the corpses of dead accounts
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Reuters

The median Twitter account has only one follower.

That’s what Jon Bruner, a data journalist at O’Reilly Radar, found when he algorithmically queried the service about its users at random this fall. 

But then again, the median Twitter account doesn’t tweet that much, because a huge number of accounts on the service were created and left unused. So if you only include accounts that have tweeted in the past month, the median user has 61 followers.

(Twitter, when contacted to confirm Bruner’s research, did not reply.)

“If you’ve got a thousand followers, you’re at the 96th percentile of active Twitter users,” writes Bruner. Two axes of his research—graphed below—show that there’s a “long tail” of massively popular Twitter accounts:

Bruner/O’Reily Radar

Bruner interprets this a showing that there’s not much of a Twitter meritocracy: Most of the most-followed users are already famous, and some of them—like former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller—don’t tweet very much in the first place.

To me, it reveals how different Twitter is from other social networks. Back in 2011, researchers at Cornell and the University of Michigan found that the median Facebook user had 100 friends. On Twitter, though, few people follow the people who follow them, a reciprocity Facebook’s software mandates. These distinctions between the networks become more important as they fight to over the same sort of advertisers—a fight that means Facebook users have been seeing a lot of Upworthy headlines and Twitter users a lot of push notifications

Twitter resembles the rest of the web in at least one important way. While surely some of those 1-follower users are real people, listening without speaking, most are likely software. On the web at large, about 61.5 percent of traffic is estimated to be, as one security firm put it, “non-human.” 

But, hey—if you’re worried how many of your followers are robots too, you can always check here.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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