It’s unsurprising that Elon Musk is trying to make as much money out of Twitter as possible. After all, it cost him (in a very literal sense) a fortune. His own fortune, to be exact. His latest announcement, however, takes things considerably further. The self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” is going to start charging users to be seen and heard in the app’s default view.
“Starting April 15th, only verified accounts will be eligible to be in For You recommendations,” he said in a Tweet this week. “This is the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over. It is otherwise a hopeless losing battle. Voting in polls will require verification for same reason.”
The decision immediately puts anyone who isn’t a public figure or who can’t afford the £11 a month fee for “Twitter Blue” at a disadvantage. A Blue subscription gets you amped-up features, a snazzy verified tick and preference in the algorithm, which are all “nice to haves” (and arguably essential for journalists and public figures, but that’s another story). But unverified users still had a fighting chance of getting something out of the service. Not anymore.
The beauty of Twitter has always been that anyone has the chance of getting noticed, going viral, having their say. It was a gift to citizen journalism, and created on-the-ground reporters at every event with mobile signal on the planet. It was available in most countries, and anyone had the potential to make an impact.
If you stick to the “For You” tab, which most light users do, you’re only going to see information and opinions from people who have Twitter Blue subscriptions, a self-selecting audience that at present has a fairly specific ideological slant (libertarian through to right wing). One of Musk’s aims for Twitter was to make it an unbiased and democratic platform. He has just introduced a hell of a bias.
It gets worse, though. Essentially this gives anyone who can’t afford verification – which given we’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis is not something anyone can take for granted – a passive role in one of the most important information tools of our age. You can read tweets but your engagement with them is going to be lost in the noise.