The Upgrade

Should Twitter Get Rid of Follower Counts?

The possibility feels closer than ever

Lance Ulanoff
Published in
7 min readJan 24, 2019
Photo: FARBAI/Getty Images

IfIf Twitter was a megaphone, you’d measure its volume through follower counts. The difference between an account with 45 followers and an account with 45,000 is like the difference between a grade school music class and a concert at Madison Square Garden.

As a legacy element of Old Twitter, follower count has long been the benchmark of user popularity and reach. But with the platform struggling to control waves of troll attacks, abuse, and fake accounts, one has to wonder if the metric should stick around.

Twitter co-founder and current CEO Jack Dorsey has stopped short of chucking it, though he’s clearly doing some soul-searching. Late last year, he told an audience in New Delhi that developers didn’t give much thought to how prominent the metric was in the social network’s original interface.

“We did not really think much about it and moved on to the next problem to solve,” Dorsey reportedly said. “… we put all the emphasis, not intending to, on that number of, how many people follow me. So, if that number is big and bold, what do people want to do with it? They want to make it go up.”

If Twitter is about letting “strangers” know what you’re doing, then it’s a broadcast platform. Broadcasting doesn’t work without an audience.

Early Twitter prominently featured a site member’s follower number near the top of the right-hand column. Above it, though, was a metric Twitter no longer publicly tracks: “Friends,” or the number of your followers that you followed back. It aligned neatly with one of Twitter’s earliest taglines (from September 2006), which read, “Twitter is for staying in touch and keeping up with friends, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.” Two months later, the text was amended and Twitter was now: “A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing?”

That update opened the door to “strangers,” which might explain more about today’s ongoing follower fixation than anyone realizes. After all, if Twitter is about letting “strangers” know…



Lance Ulanoff

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.