Following his acquisition of Twitter for $44 billion, troll billionaire Elon Musk has wasted little time in sweeping out the old guard and indicating what's to come under his leadership. A new filing shows that Musk is now the sole director of the company, with nine executives including former CEO Parag Agrawal being ousted, while The Washington Post reports that major layoffs could also be on the way, the suggestion being 25% of Twitter's total workforce.
Musk wasted little time before indulging himself, changing his bio to first "Chief Twit" which has now become "Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator". He's also began to address reports that the verification process will become a subscription service, with a price of $20 initially rumoured. Author Stephen King then had a bit of a moan about paying $20 for verification (you'd think he could afford it) and said he'd be "gone like Enron" should such a scheme be implemented.
$20 a month to keep my blue check? Fuck that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.October 31, 2022
This prompted Musk to say in response: "We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?"
Soon afterwards, Musk expanded on what he sees as a possible future for the platform's 'blue checkmark" accounts. At the moment, Twitter verification is a process of proving one's identity to the company, and was intended to ensure users could trust that a given public figure's account really does belong to that public figure. Of course, what was intended as something of a security feature has become its own source of clout on the platform, and everyone grumbles about the verification process.
"Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit," wrote Musk (opens in new tab). "Power to the people! Blue for $8/month."
You really have to possess mighty chutzpah to frame a subscription service for something that is currently free as "power to the people", but then this is Musk's big problem with Twitter. The acquisition total includes $13 billion in debt financing, which Musk will have to service, and the ideal way to do that would be for Twitter to pay for itself: to become, in other words, a company that makes profits such that it could justify a $44 billion price tag. If Twitter doesn't make considerable amounts of money soon, in other words, then Musk is going to lose a lot of it.
Musk went on to further flesh-out what he thinks an attractive subscription offer would look like. The $8 price will be adjusted by country, "proportionate to purchasing power parity", and blue checkmark accounts will also have: "priority in replies, mentions & search, which is essential to defeat spam/scam." These accounts will also have the "ability to post long video & audio" and, here's the sting in the tail, "half as many ads".
So even if you pay for it, you'll still be getting ads on Twitter, and the odds are that the ads will get even worse for non-paying users. One of Musk's more interesting ideas is bundled-up with this, however, which is that a Twitter subscription could feature a "paywall bypass for publishers willing to work with us".
That is, if you're a blue checkmark account, you'll have access to certain paywalled sites without having to subscribe to them individually. This is undoubtedly a problem on the contemporary internet that needs solving. Many of us would be happy to pay for quality online content, but few are able to afford multiple $5 or $10 monthly subscriptions across a range of outlets. One solution may ultimately be a centralised subscription service that divvies-up a user's monthly fee among the sites they actually use that month and, given Twitter's tentacles are so firmly wrapped around the media ecosystem, it is in a strong position to offer something on those lines.
Musk reckons this kind of service would "destroy the bots" and a subscription fee "raises the cost of crime on Twitter by several orders of magnitude." Crime is an odd term in the context of Twitter, though some of Musk's own memes probably fit the description.
Anyway: changes are a-coming to Twitter, and it's already had consequences for one small part of the gaming ecosystem on there. Musk has to make this business profitable, he has to do it fast, and he clearly thinks a major potential revenue stream is to make all the Twitter addicts pay for it. For those of us who can't or won't, we're going to be getting a hell of a lot more adverts: and that's the good news.