Fans of Twitter (now called X) have something new to consider: whether the social media app is worth a subscription fee.
Musk announced the change in a livestream conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He suggested that he might start charging everyone to access X. That report by The Guardian quoted Musk as saying: “We’re moving to having a small monthly payment for use of the system.”
According to CNBC, Musk says there are too many bots, and by charging a small amount per month for access, the service can eradicate what he called “a vast army of bots” that have invaded the service over the last several years.
Let’s peel back the layers here a little. For starters, Musk seems to be throwing up his hands in the fight against bots that can create accounts, post like a real human, and troll other users. Bot armies are pervasive and usually pilfering websites and social media platforms as a way to steal your personal information or scam you in other ways. Bots are running rampant because they can be programmed to act like humans and defeat many of the defenses that tech companies have built to ward them off.
The solution to the problem doesn’t really make sense, though.
What Musk is suggesting is that the users themselves pay for the privilege of using a service that is not infested with bot accounts, as opposed to figuring out how to get rid of the bots. (Bot armies are rampant, but they don’t like to pay subscription fees.) More critically, he’s suggesting that X is worth paying for in the first place.
I can think of a few examples of how this business model has worked with other services. The one that comes to mind involves secure email. There are times when it makes sense to pay for email using an app like Zivver, for example. Maybe you are sending legal contracts to clients or transmitting financial information. That service costs $7.20 per month.
X (meaning, Twitter) has used a well-known business model up until now. We agree to see ads and sponsored content because we don’t actually pay attention to the ads in the first place. Charging for a service that’s barely useful reveals a misunderstanding about why we use the apps in the first place. Believe me, it’s not for sending legal documents to clients.
Here’s where things get interesting, though.
Musk wants us to pay for X now, before it becomes the app he wants it to become — which might actually have some usefulness or involve our finances in some way. He hasn’t built that yet. He bought Twitter on a whim, and then probably realized he had also purchased millions of user accounts that could be magically transported to another app, without asking if anyone wanted him to do that.
What might work? Musk should build out X first, then ask us to start paying. For now, we have to decide whether the app as it stands is worth the money.