Ever since Elon Musk acquired popular micro-blogging site Twitter, things have been tumultuous, to say the least. Ranging from a chaotic start of a revamped Twitter Blue and firing thousands of employees and executives alike, to dealing with a multitude of lawsuits, rebranding Twitter to X by ‘killing’ the popular ‘blue bird’ icon, bringing the verification ‘tick’ to anyone willing to pay for it, and having advertisers and users abandon ship in droves – Twitter has had a chaotic time. Now, the going is set to get tougher for what Twitter (sorry, X) users remain on the platform – the popular social media network may no longer remain a free site.
Musk has recently hinted at the possibility of charging users of the social media platform a “small monthly payment.” In a live-streamed conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Musk discussed the idea of implementing a “small monthly payment” for users of the erstwhile Twitter. “[We’re] moving to a small monthly payment,” Musk told Netanyahu during the live-stream, adding that it was to combat “vast armies of bots.”
Musk explained his rationale behind introducing a paywall, stating that it is the most effective way to counter the prevalence of bots on the platform. He highlighted that bots are a significant challenge because of their low operating costs. However, by introducing even a nominal monthly fee, Elon believes that the cost-effectiveness of deploying bots will diminish significantly. This change would make it financially unfeasible for individuals or groups to use bots for various purposes, including spreading misinformation or spam. “Because a bot costs a fraction of a penny — call it a tenth of a penny — but even if it has to pay…a few dollars or something, the effective cost of bots is very high,” Musk said.
If Musk goes through with his plan, then it would add to X’s existing methods of monetization. X already offers a subscription service called X Premium (formerly Twitter Blue), which is priced at $8 per month or $84 per year. This subscription provides users with various features, including the ability to edit posts, a reduction in ad frequency, prioritized rankings in search and conversations, longer post lengths, and more. However, it’s important to note that X Premium has not seen widespread adoption among X users. Independent research suggests that only a fraction of users currently subscribe to this premium offering. Nonetheless, X still has 550 million monthly users as of now, who generate 100 to 200 million posts daily, according to Musk.
Nonetheless, this news is unlikely to be taken well by X users. One of the most significant drawbacks of implementing a subscription fee is that it could exclude low-income users who cannot afford the additional cost. This may lead to a more exclusive user base and limit access to a diverse range of voices and perspectives. As users are asked to pay for access to X, there is a risk that overall user engagement could decrease. Some users may decide not to subscribe and rather move away to Twitter alternatives like Meta’s Threads or Bluesky. And, if this occurs, content creators on the platform – who rely on a large and diverse X audience – are likely to see a reduction in their reach if a substantial portion of their followers does not subscribe to the paid service.
Nonetheless, this is not the first time Musk has considered implementing a paywall for X. Reports indicate that he has previously contemplated placing the entire platform behind a paywall. While these plans have not materialized on a large scale, it appears that Musk is revisiting the idea, possibly as a solution to the ongoing challenges posed by bots and spammy accounts on the platform. While Musk has hinted at the introduction of a subscription fee, specific details about the pricing structure remain undisclosed. He referred to the proposed payment as a “small amount of money,” but refused to elaborate on the matter.
In addition to discussing the potential paywall, Musk and Netanyahu’s conversation touched on issues of hate speech and antisemitism on X. Musk acknowledged the concerns and stressed that the platform does not promote or amplify hate speech. “I encourage you and urge you to find the balance. It’s a tough one,” Netanyahu said, while Musk replied that with 100 million to 200 million posts on X in a day, “some of those are gonna be bad.”