Opinion

Elon Musk's Twitter, where 'free' speech will cost you £11 a month

Elon Musk's announcement that only verified users will appear in the For You page will lock out millions from the "world's town hall", writes Marc Burrows.

Elon Musk Twitter account seen on Mobile with Elon Musk in the background on screen, seen in this photo illustration.

Musk's Twitter Blue will turn the 'world's town hall' into a talking shop for the rich and privileged. Photo by Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

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. 

And that’s before we get to his spurious claims about “advanced AI bot swarms” and voting in polls. While AIs and accounts that tweet automatically (“bots”) are a problem on Twitter, whether created by rogue nations or bad actors, they’re also nowhere near as big a problem as Musk has been making out. What’s more, they’re Twitter’s problem to deal with. Passing the problem onto us is shirking the responsibility of dealing with it at the cost of the average user on the platform. 

Polls is an even weirder claim – Twitter polls are the very definition of “a bit of fun”, the only person who takes them seriously is Elon Musk, who for a while seemed to make all of his major decisions via Twitter poll under the strange assumption that it was a binding proof of public opinion. He’s essentially introducing a poll tax, and we all know how that turned out.

Musk often describes Twitter as “the world’s town hall”. In this new model, it’s a town hall in which you have to buy tickets to get inside. Everyone else is left in the yard, trying to shout through the window, and only hearing what’s going on through big TVs whose biassed reporters are relaying it between ad breaks.

Digital exclusion is a huge issue. At its most severe it means no access to the internet to complete basic tasks and isolation from loved ones. Musk has introduced a type of digital exclusion too. He’s making us pay to join conversations about our own lives. 

Only people who can spare the £11/$8 a month will be able to be heard. It sets up a two-tier system based on wealth and privilege. A previously accessible, democratic and extremely influential tool will be wholly in the hands of those who can afford it. And people that can afford it, by definition, do not always have the best interests at heart of those who cannot.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism
Naga Munchetty

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism

Purists might baulk, but Sam Smith headlining BBC Proms opens a pathway to classical music
Sam Smith arrives for the 2023 BRIT Awards ceremony at The O2 arena in London. Image: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Claire Jackson

Purists might baulk, but Sam Smith headlining BBC Proms opens a pathway to classical music

We need more women MPs – but we can't just expect women to stand for election. We must act
Lyanne Nicholl

We need more women MPs – but we can't just expect women to stand for election. We must act

Poverty prevention is our best hope. Here's some tangible ways to keep people warm, dry and fed
Tom Clark

Poverty prevention is our best hope. Here's some tangible ways to keep people warm, dry and fed

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know