X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, has come up with a new way to try and make money: the firm, which is in "negative cashflow" and has just been fined $380,000 by Australian regulators over "serious" child safety concerns, intends to suspend the accounts of new users unless they pay money.
That's not how X is putting it, of course. According to a Fortune report, X is going to charge new users $1 per year for the most basic functionality. If they don't pay, they won't be able to use features such as creating posts, replying to others, quote-tweeting, retweeting, liking, bookmarking or creating lists. In other words, they'll have the same lack of features as a suspended account.
The plan is apparently Elon Musk's idea, and he says charging is the "only way" to keep the platform free of bots. Presumably that's different bots from the ones whose owners are famously in possession of endless collections of cracked and stolen credit card numbers.
Is Twitter really charging to banish the bots?
That seems highly unlikely. Not least because this isn't the first time Musk has introduced a fee to supposedly banish bots; that was the rationale for charging for blue-tick accounts too.
Twitter is currently bleeding money and its advertising revenue is in freefall. According to Media Matters, while CEO Linda Yaccarino likes to claim that advertisers are returning to the platform, their money isn't: Visa, which is one of the firms Yaccarino has highlighted as an X advertising success, spent just $10 on advertising in 12 weeks. Before Musk bought Twitter, it spent $77,500 in the same time period. Earlier this month Reuters reported that X's monthly advertising revenues were down "at least 55% year-over-year each month" since Musk acquired the service.
Charging new users an annual fee isn't the first attempt to make X a paywalled service, and it won't be the last: X already limits the number of posts non-paying users can see on their timeline, and it's blocked non-users from seeing any content whatsoever. And code inside the Twitter app reveals three different paid-for tiers: Basic, Standard and Plus. The Basic tab, while chargeable, will not remove ads; the more expensive Standard will reduce their number and only the most expensive tier, Premium, will remove them altogether.
The most likely effect of the new charges will be to boost traffic to rivals: we're already seeing Bluesky get subscriber boosts every time Musk announces a change to X and Threads keeps adding new features to make it more useful, which is having an evident effect on user activity: what has seemed fairly quiet since launch feels much busier and more energetic now. For rival social networks, the more changes Musk makes to X the happier they'll be.