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25 April

Twitter should charge us

Under Elon Musk, the platform is approaching pay up or shut up time.

By Chris Stokel-Walker

Twitter is quickly spiralling out of control.

Last week, Elon Musk, the platform’s mercurial owner, took verification labels from thousands of users before restoring them to three: the actor William Shatner, basketball player LeBron James and the sci-fi author Stephen King. After an outcry, Musk then reneged on his decision over the weekend, reintroducing verification to all users who previously had a checkmark and more than a million followers.

The flip-flopping hasn’t helped ensure that those accounts who ought to be verified are. One major account that slipped the net was @DisneyJuniorUK, which was granted an exclusive gold checkmark – bona fide evidence that the account was official, according to Twitter. There was one problem: the person behind it had no connection to Disney. They themselves appeared surprised by how it had happened. They tweeted “no f***ing way”, before their account was suspended by Twitter.

Twitter’s patched-together verification system isn’t working. Fewer than 20,000 out of 407,000 previously verified accounts paid for Twitter Blue once their checkmarks were (temporarily) taken away from them, according to one third-party analysis. Earlier this year, insider information showed Twitter had just 180,000 paying subscribers in the US within two months of launching its subscription arm – which would earn Musk less than 1 per cent of his revenue target for the new Twitter.

The current business model isn’t working. And getting people to pay for Twitter’s limited subscriber functionality clearly isn’t an attractive proposition for users.

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What’s the answer? Well, a fairly radical one could be to institute a pay wall around the whole platform. It’s a go-for-broke strategy, but it’s one that, given everything else has been thrown at the wall and shown not to stick, is worth trying.

[See also: Why Twitter has profound impacts on society]

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Advertisers are currently abandoning the site in droves, meaning that its formerly strong revenue streams are being drastically weakened. The Disney Junior debacle will make many more advertisers and brands think twice about giving money to a platform that can make such a fundamental error of mistaken identity.

Meanwhile, users too are growing sick of Twitter, meaning that they’re less likely to post on the platform. The current priority given to paying users in tweet replies and the platform’s For You algorithm shows the seedy side of Twitter. As Elon Musk and his cadre of Twitter Blue true believers appear to be pushing people away from the platform, it’s clear that intelligent users aren’t going to cough up the cash to pay for Twitter Blue as it stands – the likelihood of turning this around is diminishing so long as Twitter continues to lose its value to users.

Which is why Musk should go for broke. Many of us, despite what we might say, are addicted enough to Twitter that we would consider forking out for access to the platform. I know I probably would if there was no alternative – though I wouldn’t think of paying for the paltry offering Twitter Blue provides users. Thousands, if not millions, of Twitter power-users who rely on it for breaking news, business networking and personal advice would likely think the same.

Time is running out to make that big, bold move. At present, the mass of Twitter’s user base – rather than its small proportion of subscription users – make paying for access to the platform worthwhile. But the more that Twitter Blue users dominate the discourse, the less valuable it becomes.

It feels like we’re approaching put up or shut up time for Twitter. Already, some feel that it’s not worth it, even while it’s free. When the platform’s utility is rendered so useless that people think twice about logging on, it becomes more difficult with every passing minute to convince them to pay.

Read more:

What does the end of Twitter mean for news media?

Twitter is dead

The day Twitter lost its blue ticks

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