an economic dwarf but a political giant

The social network with the blue bird has fallen into the hands of Elon Musk. The Tesla founder confirmed that he had completed the takeover of Twitter… with a tweet announcing that “the bird is released”.

This acquisition for 44 billion dollars will probably not upset the finances of the richest man in the world. On the other hand, it will allow it to extend its influence: if Twitter remains an economic dwarf, it has established itself as a political giant and an essential agent of influence in electoral campaigns.

Twitter’s net profit for the year 2021 amounts to 221 million euros. The sum is not negligible, but remains modest compared to the performance of its competitors: Meta, which brings together Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has earned more than 39 billion euros in profit over the same period.

It’s no secret that Twitter, which turned its first profit in 2019, thirteen years after its founding, has struggled to convert its success into revenue. “I’m not looking to make money” by acquiring this social network, has also indicated Elon Musk. No, the billionaire has another goal: “Protect freedom of expression. »

Twitter, tool of influence

This assertion reveals the political scope of the takeover of Twitter. The journalist from New Yorker who quotes these words offers a clear-cut interpretation: “Elon Musk wants to use Twitter as a tool to continue to influence a large audience undisturbed. » Because, if Twitter has little financial interest, its political influence is beyond doubt.

Admittedly, it has already been put into perspective by professionals in the field. “There is a huge disconnect between voters and people who frequent Twitter,” emphasizes on Politico Zach Graumann, the campaign manager of Andrew Yang, candidate for the presidential primaries of the American Democratic Party in 2020. The voters are indeed much more numerous on Facebook.

Twitter and opinion leaders

Twitter’s interest actually lies elsewhere. If the content posted on the platform does not necessarily reach voters directly, it generally arrives on the screens of a very specific category of actors: opinion leaders.

This notion comes from a fundamental work in electoral sociology, that of the American Paul Lazarsfeld. In his work The People’s Choicepublished in 1944, he asserts that the choice of voters is dictated by that of opinion leaders, considered legitimate by voters because of their notoriety or their perceived expertise.

The Power of Twitter

Twitter brings together many of these players, from journalists to influencers to columnists. And like “these are the ones politicians should aim for”as Eric Wilson reminds us at Politicothe digital strategist of the American Republican Party, this makes the blue bird social network essential.

An article published in the scientific journal Journalism Practice, based on a study conducted during a presidential election in Nigeria, attests to this. Analyzing a sample of 1,048 tweets posted by two prominent candidates, the authors concluded that there “there was a relationship between the central themes of public debate such as security, anti-corruption and the economy” and “the tweets of the two candidates”. The paper notes that these thus had an influence on the discourse produced by the media about the election.

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