Last week, Twitter owner Elon Musk rolled out a new feature that shows how many times a tweet has been seen. Musk shared his reasoning: view counts—which are much, much higher than the established metrics of faves and retweets—make clear how “alive” the site is.
To put these views into context, we’ve compared some recent tweets to real-world analogs. (N.B.: This “views” data had always been privately available as “impressions,” though it was not readily visible while scrolling—and not visible for other people’s tweets.)
A user by the name of Wallstreet_Ray shares a video taken at a Georgia Waffle House on Dec. 26, 2022:
Views: 14,000,000. View equivalent: A game of the 2022 NBA Finals, which averaged 12.4 million viewers across six games.
Barack Obama shares his favorite music of the year, Dec. 24, 2022:
Views: 34,500,000. View equivalent: The last 30 minutes of the 2022 World Cup Final in the United States, which drew 33 million viewers.
Greta Thunberg tells men’s rights activist Andrew Tate to email her at email@example.com, Dec. 28, 2022:
Views: 187,400,000. View equivalent: Two Super Bowls, which tend to pull in about 100 million viewers.
Elon Musk asks if he should step down as head of Twitter, Dec. 18, 2022:
Views: 350,000,000. View equivalent: Neil Armstrong walks on the moon, which was seen by approximately 600,000,000 worldwide.
That all sounds very impressive—things of ultimately little importance get as many “views” as major world historical events. Twitter, where it’s all happening!
But many users noticed that those “views” on their tweets are often accompanied by a comparatively paltry number of interactions. The less cheery takeaway: Lots of people are seeing my jokes, stories, and pictures, and most of them aren’t even dropping a fave. So much for shadowbanning—your shit is just no good.
Consider this comment about Toblerone I made on Dec. 1, 2022:
Views: 1,502. Not as much as Obama, though still an impressive number of human beings seeing my barroom aside.
But faves? 24. Retweets? None.
The views metric illustrates something that digital media publishers have long known: People spend a lot of time scrolling through Twitter, but very little time interacting with tweets. Most “views” occur with the same amount of intention and attention you might devote to watching cars go by while you wait for the light to change.
So for my Toblerone tweet, let’s put the “views equivalent” at five Acela trains … if everyone were idly gazing out the window at my tweet—which is, ultimately, little more than a piece of forgettable scenery.