X, formerly Twitter, becomes No. 1 app on US App Store after news of Tucker Carlson-Putin interview emerges

After former Fox News TV host Tucker Carlson announced on X he would be interviewing Russian president Vladimir Putin, downloads of the app formerly known as Twitter jumped, sending X to the top of the U.S. App Store overnight. Multiple outlets on Wednesday, including Reuters, the AP, and The New York Times, have confirmed that Carlson’s interview has already taken place, and The Wall Street Journal said the interview is expected to air on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

Interest in the Carlson-Putin interview likely drove a spike in new installs for the X app, which began climbing up the App Store charts around 7 PM EST and then became the No. 1 app by midnight, according to data from app intelligence firm Appfigures. Its move unseated rival Instagram Threads, which was previously the top app and has now moved down to No. 2.

Image Credits: Appfigures

Appfigures’ early estimates indicate X gained 117,000 new downloads on Tuesday, up from 93,000 the day before. Because the app started gaining steam later in the evening, the firm believes X could still gain more installs today.

In his video, Carlson touted on the Elon Musk–owned platform that he would soon air Putin’s first interview with a Western media outlet since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A Kremlin spokesperson told Reuters that Putin agreed to the interview because Carlson’s approach would differ from the “one-sided” reporting on Ukraine by many Western media outlets. In other words, Putin believes he will not only get a sympathetic ear but also the ability to reach a broader, potentially sympathetic audience.

In a video posted on X on Tuesday afternoon, Carlson appeared in a video shot from a high-rise in central Moscow. In it, he explained why he would be interviewing Putin, saying that “most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine, or what his goals are now.” The former Fox News media personality also implied that Americans had the right to know these things because they bear some of the costs of the Russia-Ukraine war. He suggested that he alone was willing to ask Putin for the interview — an opinion CNN and PBS journalist Christiane Amanpour was quick to correct, posting:

Does Tucker really think we journalists haven’t been trying to interview President Putin every day since his full scale invasion of Ukraine? It’s absurd — we’ll continue to ask for an interview, just as we have for years now.

Critics have called out Carlson previously for appearing to sympathize with Russia’s position, having earlier directed his Fox News audience to ask themselves what the Ukraine conflict was really all about and why they hate Putin so much.

The TV host is among a small set of creators who have set up shop on the rebranded X under Musk’s ownership. However, Musk clarified last May, shortly after Carlson’s dismissal from Fox, that X doesn’t have a deal with the TV host. Instead, Carlson would still be subject to the rules that govern other content creators on X, Musk explained  — including those that give creators a cut of X’s ad revenue.

Musk’s politics have shifted right in recent years, and his tendency to post his controversial views on the platform has put X into hot water at times and even threatened its future profitability. Late last year, for instance, X faced an advertiser exodus over some of Musk’s antisemitic remarks.

But despite Musk’s own leanings, not all creator content on X mirrors his views. Top YouTuber MrBeast posted a video on X in January, netting him over $250,000, for example. Former CNN anchor Don Lemon will also publish a show on X after his firing by the network last year. Other creators on X include politician Tulsi Gabbard and Paris Hilton, who the NYT recently confirmed would be returning to X after all. (Hilton had originally dropped her deal with X over Musk’s antisemitic comments and brand safety concerns, but X CEO Linda Yaccarino convinced her to return, the report said.)

The timing of X’s spike to the top of the App Store is also notable for another reason, besides the Tucker Carlson news.

Yesterday, X competitor Bluesky opened its doors to the public after being in invite-only status. This year, Bluesky plans to launch federation, meaning it will act as a decentralized alternative to Twitter/X, similar to Mastodon. However, it uses a different underlying protocol, the AT Protocol, while Mastodon and Instagram Threads, another X rival, are building on ActivityPub.

Though Bluesky gained some 800,000 new users yesterday, it does not rank in the top 100 free apps on the U.S. App Store at this time.

Update, 2/8/24, 9 am et: The Verge points out that another viral moment involving Drake could have been responsible for the surge in new installs. However, it noted that posts with millions of views had circulated for days on the platform. Meanwhile, the steep jump in X installs came in the evening, only hours after Carlson’s announcement.


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