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Twitter sees jump in user base amid US election turmoil

Glenn CHAPMAN
·3-min read
Twitter ended the fourth quarter, a period that including the tumult of the US election with a strong profit and a rise in its user base.

Twitter said Tuesday its user base jumped to 192 million in the quarter marked by US presidential election turmoil and a battle against misinformation.

Ranks of "monetizable" daily active Twitter users rose 27 percent from a year earlier during the fourth quarter, which ended just days before former president Donald Trump was booted from the service.

And the one-to-many messaging platform that was used relentlessly by Trump has been growing at an above average pace after his high-profile eviction, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said on an earnings call.

"We are platform that is obviously much larger than any one topic or any one account," Dorsey said.

"We are also not dependent upon just news and politics being what drives Twitter."

Some 80 percent of Twitter users are outside the US, and the service has added tools to enable people to tune into topics they find interesting as well as to keep conversations civil, Dorsey noted.

"Life without Trump is turning out to be not only less aggravating but a lot less damaging to the social network than a lot of us thought," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

"He was driving a lot of traffic, but it was very focused traffic. I am not sure a lot of those people are reading the ads."

Twitter suspended Trump in early January over posts accused of inflaming deadly violence in the US Capitol, as social media scrambled to respond to mayhem by supporters buying into his baseless attacks on the integrity of the election.

The unprecedented sanctions came after the president took to social media to repeat his numerous false claims about fraud and other impropriety in the election he lost to Joe Biden.

- Birdwatching -

Dorsey said Twitter remained focused on "promoting healthier conversations" at the service, pointing to the testing of a Birdwatch feature that lets people identify misleading tweets and provide information adding context..

During the pilot phase, Birdwatch notes are being posted on a separate website.

Dorsey reasoned that "decentralizing" the content moderation process by enlisting Twitter users casts a much wider net for misinformation than the company could manage internally.

"Ultimately, this is a problem best solved by people using Twitter itself," Dorsey said.

"It allows people to give more context for the things we are not able to handle as a centralized service."

He also advocated putting more power in the hands of users when it comes to the algorithms that rank content, giving them more choices in such recommendation software.

"That will not only help our business, but drive more people into participating in social media in the first place," Dorsey maintained.

- Apple bite? -

Twitter reported profit nearly doubled from a year earlier to $222 million on revenue that soared 28 percent to a record $1.29 billion.

The results sparked a modest uptick in shares of Twitter, which has been working to boost advertising as it seeks to broaden its base beyond its core audience of celebrities, journalists and politicians.

"Twitter caps off a turbulent 2020 with a strong performance," eMarketer analyst Nazmul Islam said of the quarterly results that beat market expectations.

Twitter warned that ad revenue could take a hit from changes Apple is making to the iOS software powering its mobile devices.

A new Apple feature referred to as a "privacy nutrition label" tells users what tracking data is gathered by mobile apps and asks for consent via an onscreen prompt.

Tracking data is used to target advertising in ways that make it more likely to get clicks, making money for platforms in the process.

"Assuming the global pandemic continues to improve and that we see modest impact from the rollout of changes associated with iOS 14, we expect total revenue to grow faster than expenses in 2021," Twitter said.

gc/