So it seems like Elon Musk really is planning to charge all users of X after all.
Last month, in an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Musk alluded to the possibility of charging “a small monthly payment” for all users, in order to combat bot armies, as bot peddlers would then be priced out of the market, because they’d have to pay for every profile that they create.
Now, X is actually moving to a live test of this model, with a scheme that could eventually see all new users charged $1 to create an account in the app.
As per X:
“Starting today, we're testing a new program in New Zealand and the Philippines, where new, unverified accounts will be required to sign up for a $1 annual subscription to be able to post, and interact with other posts. Within this test, existing users are not affected.”
So new accounts will still be able to read posts, they just won’t be able to post their own, or like and reply in the app. Which, considering 80% of X users never post anything at all, is probably not that big of a deal, though it will likely make more people think twice about even starting an X account, while it’ll also have implications for X’s algorithmic recommendations, as the system will have virtually no engagement data (other than accounts you follow) to go on for non-paying users.
So, really, you’d be using X, but it’ll be, like, the worst version, in which you can’t engage at all. Unless, of course, you pay.
The program, which X has titled “Not a Bot”, will enable the X team to “evaluate a potentially powerful measure to help us combat bots and spammers” in the app.
“This new test was developed to bolster our already successful efforts to reduce spam, manipulation of our platform and bot activity, while balancing platform accessibility with the small fee amount. It is not a profit driver. And so far, subscription options have proven to be the main solution that works at scale.”
Though how X is measuring this, I don’t know, as only a tiny fraction of X users are actually paying to use the app. In which case, how can you assess that subscription options are helping to battle bots?
Sure, paying user posts now show up higher in reply streams, and within the main “For You” feed, which subsequently pushes all non-paying interactions lower. That likely reduces bot prevalence, but again, with less than 0.5% of X’s users signed up to X premium, how this would act as a deterrent for bot peddlers, at this stage, is not clear.
Fewer bot providers are signing up for X Premium? I mean, 99.5% of its users aren’t signing up, so…
In any event, X is convinced that charging people to use the app is a potentially viable pathway forward in this respect, and it is not, as X states, a revenue driver. Though it will deliver revenue for the app.
In theory, if it were rolled out to all users, it could help to eliminate bots in the app, or at least make them more expensive, which would then act as a deterrent, especially in developing regions, where many bot armies originate (note: the charge is $US1 or local equivalent).
But still, it’s unlikely to stop the larger, coordinated misinformation campaigns, which are often funded by government groups, like the Russian “Internet Research Agency”, or China’s “Dragonbridge”, two of the biggest, and most well-known online influence initiatives.
There have also been more recent influence efforts that use existing X accounts to seed partisan propaganda. Those wouldn’t be impacted, based on the initial parameters of this trial, though theoretically, as these profiles are weeded out, they would then need to pay $1 per profile to start such networks again.
Which means that, over time, this could have a larger impact. And definitely, paying $1 per year is better than $8 per month, though the relative value for the user is pretty limited.
If I’m not going to post, which, as noted, the vast majority of X users don’t, why would I pay? And if I’m going to have to pay to get an optimal experience, why would I bother?
In this sense, I would prefer to see X up its proposition, by maybe charging users a fee to authenticate their profile via a third-party provider.
X recently launched a new pilot program around voluntary ID confirmation, in partnership with “forensic identity intelligence” company au10tix, which will see X outsource some of the manual workload around ID confirmation to a third party. That could enable X to implement broader identity verification into its system, but au10tix, and any other partner, would also need to be paid for facilitating such, which could be where X’s costs come in.
Charge $2, or whatever the fee, to cover verification as a once-off, then give those profiles a different colored checkmark. That would at least provide something in return for your donation, as opposed to just asking people to pay $1 per year, ongoing, for no add-on at all.
Overall, the core initiative, and the principles at play, make sense, but I suspect the only real impact here will be that it gives Meta another free kick, with Threads to gain more attention as a result.
Meta’s bot detection processes are more refined, and thus far, Threads hasn’t seemingly been overrun by bots and spam. Maybe, then, Threads will become the place to be, and X will actually lose out, as potential new users refuse to pay, and drift to Meta’s platform instead.
Though again, this is a much better proposal than X Premium, especially in developing markets, and maybe, the test will show that new users are willing to pay a small amount, which will form the new backbone of X’s bot-battling plan.
We’ll find out. X says that it will share more about the results of this initial test soon.