'Small monthly payment' only thing that stands between X and bot chaos, says Musk
Yes, because automated accounts are really the problem here
Comment You couldn't make it up. The godlike genius Elon Musk, under the cosh from accusations of rising antisemitism on the website formerly known as Twitter, invites Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have a chat at Tesla's Fremont factory.
Not long before the one-to-one was broadcast on X yesterday, Musk had brazenly claimed: "The Soros organization appears to want nothing less than the destruction of western civilization." Philanthropist and businessman George Soros has long been a bogeyman of antisemitic conspiracy theorists for his political funding, so who is responsible for promoting such narratives on the flailing social network?
Could it be the site's owner who has also threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League, an American antisemitism watchdog he believes has scared off advertisers and is "trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being anti-Semitic." The man who granted amnesty to previously banned hate speech peddlers and far-right figureheads?
No, it's definitely bots.
During the conversation, Netanyahu exhorted Musk to curb antisemitism on the platform despite his self-proclaimed commitment to free speech. Musk responded: "The single most important reason that we're moving to having a small monthly payment for use of the X system is it's the only way I can think of to combat vast armies of bots." This, we assume, would be a fee separate from the chaotic Premium subscription that replaced the blue verification ticks on Twitter.
The remark has not been seen as a move of astounding business acumen by digital marketing types considering that Musk bought the website for $44 billion and it is now estimated to be worth less than half that.
"If a pure subscription really is the only feasible model moving forward, this could sound the death knell for X," commented Ben Foster, CEO at The SEO Works. "Most people will not be prepared to pay for something they can get elsewhere for free. Without people and debate, the platform loses its impact. Even with the change of name, the brand is toxic for some advertisers, and with a massively reduced audience it will be even less appealing."
"This was inevitable," said Lee Petts, founder of Fifty2M. "Twitter, or X, has reportedly lost a lot of ad revenue since Musk took over, and he needs to get a return on the $44 billion he spent buying the platform, so a subscription model makes sense. Will it get rid of the bots? Maybe, but user numbers will plummet too because apart from a hard core of mouthy political types that enjoy barking into an echo chamber, I don't imagine a lot of users will hang around if they have to pay."
Jessica Ross, CEO at Smashtag Social, opined: "X doesn't offer enough return on investment for brands to consider paying simply to be on there. Any time there is a cost involved you have to be able to justify the payment, and right now the platform is heading the same way as the dodo."
John Lamerton of Big Idea Ventures had a different take, however. "Sixteen years of an advertising-supported model resulted in $1.4 billion in net losses for Twitter. Musk has well and truly burned his bridges with advertisers, so this is probably his best bet to recoup his $44 billion investment. I actually think it will work too. Musk has created an 'us and them' culture at X, one that could very well lead to 'us' being willing to put our hands in our pockets to keep 'them' out."
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So not quite the world's digital town square as Musk envisioned it, but more an echo chamber for his most faithful cultists, yes men, and sycophants.
Netanyahu had an agenda going into the meeting as well. Far from being a paragon of the international Jewish community for Musk to parade, the Israeli leader has been facing a PR crisis of his own at home for efforts to reform the judiciary that have been described by opponents as a threat to the country's democracy.
But if he can return to Israel with Musk backing the country's AI sector, which is what the conversation was supposed to be about, he thinks he'll look like less of a villain. Netanyahu presented the meeting as an opportunity to "push for [Musk] to invest in Israel in the coming years."
Speaking about how AI is both "a blessing and a curse," he said: "As a leader of a country that is an AI player, and could be a big player if we have our way, and I think we will, then we want to increase the blessings, not only for ourselves, but for all of humanity."
Musk's subscription remark is possibly throwaway – like most of what he says. But we doubt there is a single person reading who would pay for what is in its current state a "nothing app," despite the mogul's desire for it to be the "everything app."
In any case, if we were all paywalled out of using Twitter, hopefully the world's discourse would become somewhat saner. ®