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Musk charges ahead with plans to make people pay for Twitter

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Musk charges ahead with plans to make people pay for Twitter

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Elon Musk is charging ahead with plans to get more Twitter users to pay for the service, spurring backlash from some of the platform’s most famous users.

Novelist Stephen King lambasted the idea of paying to keep the blue check mark Twitter uses to show it has verified users’ real identity, tweeting to his almost 7 million followers on Monday: “They should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron,” he said, alluding to the energy company that collapsed in scandal and filed for bankruptcy.

Musk responded, suggested that charging for verification would help the site to make a profit and appeared to negotiate with King, tweeting: “We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?” King didn’t reply.

Musk is scrambling to find ways to shore up Twitter’s business and increase its revenue. Though the company is no longer public, it now has to make huge interest payments every year on the debt Musk accrued by buying it. Musk also pitched his co-investors on the deal by saying he would be able to improve the company’s business rapidly in the years after taking it over.

Right now, Twitter makes most of its money from advertising, and Musk is currently in New York meeting with advertisers to shore up relationships with them, including representatives of the biggest marketing agencies, according to an executive at one of those agencies who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But advertising won’t be enough, Musk has said repeatedly.

On Oct. 27, Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter and began taking control of the social media company, firing several key executives. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

Advertisers are also concerned about how the site might change under Musk. The marketing executive appreciated Musk’s tweeted commitment last week that the site wouldn’t become a “free-for-all hellscape,” but said leaders in the industry were concerned when the billionaire boosted a conspiracy theory about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul.

“Actions speak so much louder than words,” the executive said.

Over the weekend, Musk ordered employees to merge the company’s current paid tier — known as Twitter Blue — with the verification program, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. On Tuesday, he appeared to confirm the plan, tweeting “Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.”

Minutes later he tweeted out that the new paid product would also include the ability to post longer videos and audio clips, fewer ads and having one’s tweets appear more prominently in search results and replies to other tweets.

Twitter wants to charge for verification. Here’s what you need to know.

The billionaire Tesla and SpaceX owner completed his purchase of Twitter for $44 billion last week after several months of negotiations and legal wrangling.

In the run-up to his Twitter acquisition, Musk made the issue of fake Twitter accounts run by “bots” a point of major contention as he demanded more internal data from the company to evaluate the number of fake users on the site. He claimed the issue was enough to get him out of the deal, but he gave up and bought Twitter as a lawsuit that would have likely forced him to go through with it neared.

He has since said that the “whole verification process is being revamped” and that verifying users is crucial to fighting the bots and spam problem. It is unclear how Musk plans to verify most of the site’s millions of users while convincing them to pay for something that is currently free.

The blue verification badge signifies that an account is “authentic, notable, and active,” according to Twitter, and is generally held by public figures in government, news and entertainment.

Making users pay for premium features is a common business strategy in the tech world. LinkedIn charges users for the ability to send messages other people on the platform, a tool used by sales people and recruiters. Dating apps charge their users to have their profiles appear at the top of other peoples’ feeds, increasing the number of people who see them.

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But Twitter began verifying its users years ago as a way to build trust in the platform. The site doesn’t require people to use their real name, so it’s easy to impersonate another account and try to trick people into thinking a famous person or journalist said something they didn’t. Verification helps stop that by giving people more assurance that someone claiming to be a politicians or news source or famous actor really is who they say they are.

King was one of many Twitter users who said making well-known figures pay for verification was a bad idea. Other social media sites like YouTube and even Facebook and TikTok pay the biggest and most famous people on their site to keep them there. The idea is that encouraging content creators to stay on your site brings more users and then allows the company to charge more for ads.

Musk has said he wants to begin paying content creators, and said in a tweet on Tuesday that charging for verification and other features would bring in new money to do just that.

Before Musk announced his plans, tech investor and longtime Musk associate Jason Calacanis, who has been working with Musk to enact his plans at Twitter asked his followers about what they would pay for a blue check amounts for a blue. More than 80 percent, of people said they would pay nothing. Musk responded to Calacanis’s poll, saying: “Interesting.”

Echoing Musk’s rationale, Calacanis tweeted that “having many more people verified on Twitter, while removing the bot armies, is the quickest path to making the platform safer & more usable for everyone.”

Musk formally took over as Twitter CEO after firing several of Twitter’s executives, including former CEO Parag Agrawal.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that members of Musk’s inner circle, alongside Twitter’s remaining senior executives, conducted detailed discussions about the site’s approach to content moderation and spam as well as plans for a first round of layoffs for some 25 percent of the workforce.

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A financial filing on Monday also showed that Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey rolled over his Twitter shares into the company, making him one of Musk’s investors.

Since taking over the platform, Musk has also said that he has plans to form a “content moderation council” of experts with “widely diverse viewpoints.” He added that no major content decisions or account reinstatements would happen before that council convenes.

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It comes amid speculation over whether Musk will readmit former president Donald Trump, a prolific tweeter, back on the site. Trump was banned after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, with Twitter citing the “risk of further incitement of violence.” The rebuke also meant Trump’s tweets mostly disappeared from the site, removing the catalogue of his thoughts.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if Trump is coming back on this platform, Twitter would be minting money!” Musk tweeted this week.

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Faiz Siddiqui and Will Oremus contributed to this report.

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Go to Publisher: Technology
Author: Gerrit De Vynck