In a bout of counter-programming to the first Republican primary debate on Fox News, Donald Trump sat down with Tucker Carlson for an interview on the former Fox News host’s X show on Wednesday night, opting to skip the debate altogether. As has been the case with many of Carlson’s X episodes, the interview was quickly followed by a press release boasting “blockbuster” viewership that “completely overshadowed” the debate. As it turns out, looking closer at the numbers for the Trump interview tells a very different story.
Prior to the debate, Carlson boasted that viewership of his interview with Trump — who is due to be booked on his fourth indictment in Georgia on Thursday — would dwarf Fox News ratings, and superficially that prediction came true. As of this writing, the video has clocked more than 180 million views.
But, not so fast. Yes, 180 million is an amazing-sounding number. But as TheWrap explained back in June, it’s also almost meaningless.
According to the X (formerly Twitter) FAQ, which you can read here, practically anything counts as a view.
“Anyone who is logged into Twitter who views a Tweet counts as a view, regardless of where they see the Tweet (e.g. Home, Search, Profiles, etc.) or whether or not they follow the author. If you’re the author, looking at your own Tweet also counts as a view,” the company says.
In other words, a view is counted even if you didn’t actively look at the post (formerly known as “tweets” before Elon Musk changed the site’s name to X) even if all it did was cross your screen while you were scrolling. Which by the way is a very likely occurrence on X’s algorithmic “For You” tab… especially if that tweet features content by users Twitter owner Elon Musk personally wants to boost.
That’s not all. “Multiple views may be counted if you view a Tweet more than once, but not all views are unique. For example, you could look at a Tweet on web and then on your phone, and that would count as two views.”
Did the Tweet come across your feed more than once, either algorithmically or because someone retweeted it? Did you see it on mobile and desktop? Every single time you see it might — and probably does — count as an individual view.
The upshot: Twitter “views” tell us next to nothing about the popularity or virality of a given post, because views have no relationship to how much actual engagement the post got.
And shocker: The numbers that record real engagement tell a much different story.
As of this writing, Carlson’s interview with Trump has been reposted (formerly “retweeted”) 171,800 times, quote-posted (formerly “quote-tweeted”) 14,500 times, liked 578,100 times, bookmarked 46,500 times, and has been replied to around 47,000 times. Not especially low numbers. It’s undeniable that Trump has a lot of supporters, many of whom swarm on Twitter.
But these days, Fox averages about 1.7 million viewers during its primetime broadcast. And notice the specificity of the word “viewers.” Because none of the numbers tracking engagement on a X post tell you if someone actually watched the video.
We have no idea how many people sat through the whole 45-minute interview between the former president who has been indicted four times, and the man who used to host what the New York Times declared to be “the most racist show in the history of cable news.” It’s impossible to draw any conclusion whatsoever. But if we assume engagement is a likelier means of getting an accurate count than passive “views,” the interview almost certainly did not end up “overshadowing all of Television programming on Wednesday night,” even if ratings were halved by Trump’s absence, as Brian Stelter predicted.
Representatives for X (formerly Twitter) didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.