X, formerly Twitter, has started to test a $1 annual charge for new users in New Zealand and the Philippines, following Elon Musk’s claims that it will help combat “the army of bots” on the platform.
The subscription, which was first reported by Fortune, will put basic features including tweeting, retweeting and liking behind a paywall.
“As of October 17 2023, we’ve started testing ‘Not A Bot’, a new subscription method for new users in two countries,” X wrote in a post.
“This new test was developed to bolster our already significant efforts to reduce spam, manipulation of our platform and bot activity.
“This will evaluate a potentially powerful measure to help us combat bots and spammers on X while balancing platform accessibility with the small fee amount. Within this test, existing users are not affected.”
For $1 annually, new X users in New Zealand and the Philippines will get access to all of the basic features. Those that don’t pay the subscription will only be granted access to “read-only” actions.
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X said the new programme will be used to “defend against bots and spammers who attempt to manipulate the platform and disrupt the experience of other X users”.
The testing comes after Musk floated the potential paywall in September in a streamed conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
However, this testing phase is only for new users signing up for an account for the first time.
Musk said that by adding a paywall bot creators would need a new payment method every time they make one – which in logic would limit the amount of accounts they could make.
Amelia Connor-Afflick, senior analyst at GlobalData, told Verdict that the introduction of a paywall is “unsurprising”.
Connor-Afflick said: “Elon Musk is struggling financially and with user count ever since he acquired it that makes the introduction of the $ subscription to X specifically unsurprising.”
The paywall is also not a surprise due to the fact that increasing data privacy laws are putting the future ad-based business model of all social media companies at risk, Connor-Afflick added.
The news comes as social media platforms look for ways to diversify their revenue streams. It was recently reported that Meta was in talks to add paid ad-free options for users.
However, Antoine Vastel, head of research at global cybersecurity company DataDome, told Verdict that a paywall could “be more counterproductive in the long term” for X.
Vastel said: “At the end of the day, X needs to consider the trade-off between security and usability.
“Putting X behind a paywall is secure in theory, as it adds another entry barrier to bots, however, it significantly changes the business model of X, which could be more counterproductive in the long term, as it could impact ad revenue.”
Musk also announced the introduction of two new premium subscription tiers on Friday (20 October).
“One is lower cost with all features, but no reduction in ads, and the other is more expensive, but has no ads,” the CEO posted on X.
Laura Petrone, analyst at research company GlobalData, told Verdict that the idea of free social media is so ingrained in users’ minds “that it remains to be seen whether they will be willing to pay for them”.
“Also, there’s no guarantee that the quality of these services will improve when subscriptions are in place,” Petrone said.
She added: “For these subscription models to work, platforms like X have to prove that their moderation policies work.”