Twitter Misinformation Superspreaders See Huge Spike in Engagement Post-Acquisition by Elon Musk

Twitter’s most popular NewsGuard Red-Rated untrustworthy accounts garnered 57.04% increase in engagement in the week following the change in ownership

By Jack Brewster, Macrina Wang, and Valerie Pavilonis | Published on Nov. 11, 2022

In the week following Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, the most popular untrustworthy accounts enjoyed a 57.04% increase in engagement in the form of likes and retweets, according to a survey undertaken by NewsGuard using its proprietary trust ratings and online engagement data provided by NewsWhip.

The findings highlight how Musk’s public statements about potential future changes to Twitter policies appear to have encouraged greater activity by malign actors, boosting the popularity of misinformation on the platform. Even without any operational or policy changes having occurred in terms of how the platform is moderated, the simple and highly publicized fact of new ownership and Musk’s public speculation about changes to the platform coincided with a significant increase in the popularity of false narratives spread by sources that NewsGuard previously identified as untrustworthy, using basic apolitical criteria of journalistic practice.

In the week after the acquisition (Oct. 27, 2022-Nov. 3, 2022), tweets posted by the 25 most-followed Twitter accounts that are tracked by NewsWhip, a social media monitoring company, and linked to publishers that NewsGuard has assessed as repeatedly spreading false information garnered 3,115,664 likes and retweets, NewsGuard found. Two weeks prior to the acquisition, Oct. 13-Oct. 20, 2022, those same accounts received 1,983,953 likes and retweets. (Likes and retweets constitute overall “engagement.”) That accounts for a 57.04% cumulative increase post-Musk. (Note: These 25 accounts are in the top-50 most followed NewsGuard-rated untrustworthy accounts; NewsWhip does not reliably track the likes and retweets of the other 25, but there is no reason to believe their engagement would differ from the 25 accounts that are tracked.)

For example, the interactions of the Twitter account linked to — a website of healthcare hoax purveyor Joseph Mercola that has published numerous false claims about vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic —  rose from 932 to 19,259, a 1966.42% increase in engagement and the largest increase measured by NewsGuard. At the same time, the account’s tweet volume rose from 6 to 23. receives a 27.5 trust score out of possible 100 from NewsGuard.

The next largest increase in Twitter engagement post- vs. pre-acquisition was, a site founded by Dr. Christiane Northrup, a self-described wellness expert that has also repeatedly published false information about COVID-19. The site’s engagement increased 1017.46%, from 63 interactions to 704, while its number of tweets increased 54.16%, from 24 to 37. receives a 25 trust score from NewsGuard. “If I don’t get censored for this, I’ll know that the tide has truly changed,” Northrup tweeted on Oct. 28, 2022, alongside a cartoon of Musk and a person crying.

Dr. Christiane Northup, a self-described wellness expert, tweeted this graphic of Elon Musk the day after the billionaire became owner. (Screenshot via NewsGuard)

The third largest increase came from, the website of conservative radio host Wayne Dupree, which has repeatedly published false and misleading claims about the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The site’s engagement increased 308.66%, from 21,774 interactions to 88,982, while its number of tweets increased by 18.67% from 284 to 337. receives a 7.5 trust score from NewsGuard.

“In a non-biblical sense, @ElonMusk has the potential to be a savior of the United States of America and help put us back on a trajectory for what our founding founders envisioned,” Dupree tweeted on Oct. 27, 2022. “Yes, it’s that big a deal, folks.”

Wayne Dupree, a conservative radio host whose website has published false claims about COVID-19, the 2020 presidential election, and American politics, tweeted this the day that Elon Musk acquired Twitter. (Screenshot via NewsGuard)

The next four largest increases were from (245.72%), (134.76%), (109.96%), and Newsmax (81.86%). Again, all four sites fail NewsGuard’s standard for repeatedly publishing false information.

The Twitter accounts that experienced significant increases in engagement over the past week thus include healthcare hoax sites and accounts from both right-wing and left-wing websites that get low trust scores from NewsGuard. NewsGuard sent three emails and called Twitter in November 2022, asking about its handling of untrustworthy accounts and the boost in engagement for misinformation spreaders following the change in ownership, but did not receive a response.

NewsGuard found that these untrustworthy accounts are tweeting only marginally more often since Musk took over. This means that the increase in engagement cannot be solely attributed to an uptick in overall activity. The 25 Twitter accounts NewsGuard analyzed tweeted 5,358 times during the week period dated Oct. 13-Oct. 20, 2022, before the acquisition. In the week after the acquisition, those same accounts tweeted 5,684 times, a 6.08% increase. The findings may indicate that untrustworthy accounts feel more emboldened under new Twitter ownership and perhaps also that their audience feels more emboldened to engage.

Twitter accounts linked to sources NewsGuard rates as highly trustworthy did not enjoy the same boost in interactions during the two-week period, again suggesting that an uptick in engagement did not happen across the board. Tweets posted by the 25 most-followed Twitter accounts that are tracked by NewsWhip and linked to publishers that receive a 100% trust score from NewsGuard, enjoyed just a 3.77% increase in tweet interactions in the post-acquisition time period. That is a small fraction of the 57.04% increase experienced by the untrustworthy accounts.

Methodology: In November 2022, three NewsGuard analysts analyzed available NewsWhip data on the 50 most-followed Twitter accounts linked to sites that fail NewsGuard’s standard for not repeatedly publishing false content. (NewsGuard employs a team of journalists to review and rate news and information websites using nine criteria.) Twenty-five of the 50 most followed untrustworthy Twitter accounts were not reliably tracked by NewsWhip, so this analysis includes data of the 25 that are tracked.