UPDATE: Elon Musk all but confirmed X’s plan to move the entire platform behind a paywall. On Friday, 20 October 2023, Musk revealed two new tiers will be introduced below Premium. “One is lower cost with all features, but no reduction in ads, and the other is more expensive but has no ads,” he said. It remains unclear, at this point, when these tiers will be introduced.
Elon Musk looks to subscription model to kill bots on X
Musk’s rationale behind this potential fee is the necessity to combat the proliferation of bots on the platform.
Elon Musk took over the social media site in October 2022 with a $44 billion acquisition.
Since then, he has introduced a series of significant changes, including mass layoffs of employees, the introduction of a paid premium option, reductions in content moderation, and the reinstatement of formerly banned accounts, including that of former United States President Donald Trump.
In July 2023, Musk revealed that the platform had experienced a roughly 50% decline in advertising revenue.
Bots, which are automated accounts run by computer programs rather than humans, are a prevalent issue on X. They can be used to artificially amplify political messages or promote racial hatred.
During a conversation with Musk on Monday, 18 September 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised concerns about online anti-semitism and how X could prevent bots from replicating and amplifying such content.
In response, Musk suggested that the platform might introduce a “small monthly payment for use of the X system” as a way to combat the proliferation of bots.
“It’s the only way I can think of to combat vast armies of bots because a bot costs a fraction of a penny – call it a tenth of a penny – but if somebody even has to pay a few dollars, some minor amount, the effective cost of bots is very high. And then you also have to get a new payment method every time you have a new bot.”
Currently, X subscriptions start at $R144.99 per month in South Africa, with charges varying based on the user’s location.
Musk also disclosed that X has 550 million monthly users generating up to 200 million posts a day.
Previously, the platform had measured its user base by monetisable daily active users, which numbered 238 million before Musk’s acquisition in October 2022.
Musk’s consideration of a subscription fee comes as the platform faces a significant decline in advertising revenue, which has traditionally been its primary source of income.
Musk attributes this decline to an advertiser boycott, driven by concerns about his leadership and the platform’s management of inappropriate or hateful content, causing ad revenue to plummet by 60%.
Musk’s conversation with Netanyahu, initially billed as a discussion about technology and artificial intelligence, shifted toward discussions of free speech and anti-semitism.
Critics have accused X of not doing enough to combat racist speech on the platform.
Netanyahu expressed hope that Musk would find ways within the confines of the First Amendment to address anti-semitism and other forms of hatred on X, emphasising the challenge of balancing free speech and combating hatred.
Musk has publicly stated that he is “pro-free speech but against anti-semitism of any kind” on his X account.