A flat fee to post on X? No thanks Elon

19 September 2023, 16:35

Elon Musk is thought to be considering making people pay to use Twitter
Elon Musk is thought to be considering making people pay to use Twitter. Picture: Alamy
Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

By Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

It’s Musk’s world – and it could be time to find a new home.

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Elon Musk is, depending on the time you read this, likely to be the world’s richest person – he runs two incredibly successful businesses, SpaceX and Tesla, and then there’s X (formerly known as Twitter) - which he doesn’t have a bloody clue what to do with – and it clearly shows.

The latest, almost throwaway comment, in a streamed chat with Israeli Prime Minister suggests that Musk may soon make every person on X pay “some minor amount” to use the platform.

Musk says - taking some of your hard-earned cash at the same time as pumping your X feed and eyeballs with poorly targeted advertising is the only way “he can think of to combat the vast armies of bots” that riddle his service.

Read more: Elon Musk says he will charge everyone to use Twitter to 'combat vast armies of bots'

Rather, the reality is that Elon wants some of your hard-earned cash to augment X’s significantly challenged ad-income. By many estimates, including the Financial Times – X is now on the hook to repay $1.5bn of interest alone every year, on the cash Musk (reluctantly) borrowed to buy Twitter (now X). X has only made that level of profit, once in its history.

When Elon Musk (reluctantly) purchased the platform last year for $44bn – some felt it was going to be a brave new dawn for the social network that never really reached it’s potential. Twitter had been stuck at around 350m registered users for several years, even when the then leader of the free world, President Donald Trump was routinely posting his thoughts from the White House toilet in block caps – yet the service was not growing.

While Musk first promised Twitter would become the “town hall of the Internet” because of his apparent roots as free-speech absolutist – despite his love of the Non-Disclosure Agreement in his other businesses, it soon became apparent that unlike Tesla and SpaceX, he was treating Twitter like it was some kind of toy – tweeting at 3am that he was going to Drop the W from Twitter, and turn the office in central San Francisco into a homeless hostel, because the staff weren’t doing any work.

I told Nick Ferrari that Twitter was about to become a rollercoaster under Musk’s control and I wasn’t wrong – before a court in Delaware compelled him to buy the service, his tweets became a constant flow of stoner internet jokes, conspiracy theories, and management of Twitter via stream of conscious – always before staff were told about changes. And then Musk laid off 70% of the staff at his plaything.

Since then, it’s become a bit of a blur – we’ve had Musk removing the verified blue tick, and introducing a paid-for version called Twitter Blue that enables users to make longer posts, and have their content seen by more people. My confusion is not helped by Elon’s constant flip-flop on a variety of changes he threatened to make – firstly limiting the number of tweets users could see, before changing his mind within hours. Let’s also not forget the name change to X – dropping the globally recognised Twitter brand, with 15 years of comparative recognition and even loyalty from some users.

There’s also the problem of what’s posted on the platform these days - changes to X’s algorithm means you’re constantly being bombarded with content that may not interest you unless you love Tesla’ and conspiracy theories. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen posts from Musk acolytes, people who paid for a blue tick, and a cavalcade of other random accounts and grifters. Like many, this has led to me spending less time on X, and that’s before we even touch on the rise of abuse on the platform.

With Musk’s “home of free speech” attitude – the anything go attitude on X appears to have stoked up hate and despite Musk’s vocal denial and thinly veiled legal threats against respected organisations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, independent groups have solid data that negative dialogue on the platform is rocketing, with an eye watering 86% of all-reported hate speech said to remain on X.

So, when Elon Musk tells us all it’s time to pay that “tiny amount” each month for the privilege of using X, I’ll finally be saying goodbye to 15+ years of conversation, and interaction with both amazing and grumpy LBC listeners. Platforms like Threads and even Bluesky from the former Twitter boss Jack Dorsey are here to stay. It’s time to let Musk play with himself.