Since closing his $44 billion takeover last week, Elon Musk has overhauled Twitter’s business model. The electric vehicle mogul has pledged to roll back content moderation and introduce a payment of $20 to retain the blue tick verification enjoyed by celebrities, politicians, and journalists. Musk’s latest announcement is increasing the price of Twitter’s premium subscription service, called Blue, to $8 per month, and adding new features. Blue membership will verify users with a blue tick, boost post visibility, and reduce the number of ads users see.
Easing accessibility to verification and rolling back content moderation will dramatically change Twitter. It could allow damaging phishing scams, with trolls posing as verified celebrities with more freedom over the content they produce. Musk’s plans could devalue Twitter as a mainstream social media platform and put users at risk.
Verification – What is it good for?
Twitter’s verification system is in place to indicate that an account “of public interest” is authentic. Users have to confirm their identity to be verified as authentic. Users will only be asked to authenticate themselves if it is a notable account. This is determined in several ways, including if an individual is referenced in the news or if a user is in the top 0.05% of accounts in terms of followers or mentions for their geographic location.
In a recent tweet, Elon Musk branded this as a “lords and peasants” system, adding that his new subscription service would give “power to the people!” However, offering verification status for money will cause unregulated chaos. It will devalue what it means to be verified and open the door to malicious actors posing as celebrities and paying for verification.
The premiumization business model will change the face of Twitter
Until now, Twitter’s purpose was to “serve the public conversation,” according to its safety statements. Musk’s premium subscription model will alter this in favor of marketing and manipulating algorithms.
One of feature that Blue subscribers will enjoy is “priority in replies, mentions, and search,” according to a tweet by Musk. This sounds reminiscent of the Instagram feed algorithm, which provides curated content personalized to different users. Musk’s premium service will intersperse this algorithm with paid content, which will be favoured for marketing purposes rather than serving the public conversation.
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Unregulated content is a leap in the wrong direction
Regulating misinformation on social media has been a key issue over the last three years due to Covid-19, the 2020 US presidential election, the 2021 Capitol riots, and the Russo-Ukraine war. Social media platforms have been lobbied to be more transparent about the algorithms they use to moderate content.
Musk’s policies could roll back progress and result in trouble for Twitter, putting users at risk. Companies like General Motors are already suspending advertising on Twitter over fears of reduced content moderation. Twitter’s new model, where anyone can be verified as long as they can afford it and content is less moderated, will not create an idealistic level playing field. It will create a new hierarchy, cause cybersecurity issues, and jeopardize user safety. Musk’s vision of free speech at Twitter will cost much more than $8 a month.