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Twitter is turning into a pay-to-play social network and I’m worried about the consequences

If you want to vote in a poll on Twitter, you’re going to need to pony up money for Elon Musk.

On Monday night, Musk took to the social media platform to announce that, starting on April 15th, users will need to be paying Twitter Blue subscribers in order to have the privilege of voting in any poll that is run by an account on the platform. If you’re a free user, you’re out of luck — no voting for you. It’s also unclear if free users will even be able to see the results of a poll, but I imagine that will still be allowed.

In addition to locking down polls, Musk also revealed that free users will no longer be recommended on the For You tab of the app. The For You tab currently recommends tweets from accounts that you aren’t following but Twitter may think you’d enjoy. It’s a great way to, once you’ve run through your Following tab, expand your horizons. Although recently, expanding your horizons has been seeing every tweet and reply from Elon.

Musk says that this change is being made because it is “the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over. It is otherwise a hopeless losing battle.”

This change is coming just two weeks after the company is planning to remove all legacy verification from accounts on the platform. This means that anyone who was verified outside of Twitter Blue will lose their blue checkmark and now need to pay for the privilege. Musk claimed that the old verification system was biased and that the new way is about “treating everyone equally.”

So, starting on March 15th, everyone might start noticing quite the shift in the accounts that show up in their For You tab, especially if a lot of the accounts with larger followings don’t start paying for Twitter Blue. I’ve seen many high-profile accounts claim that they will refuse to pay, so it will be interesting to see just how much of a visibility hit those accounts take on the platform if they do end up holding out.

I’m honestly quite torn on this strategy. On one hand, I get what Musk and the team are trying to do here. Paid verification, and specifically only recommending paid accounts, will surely decrease the impact that bot accounts have on the platform. I think that’s a pretty obvious result as the cost to create those accounts will increase exponentially.

However, I can’t help but worry that this focus on bot accounts is overblown and the collateral damage could be worse. What happens for those in countries where Twitter Blue is not live yet, or the cost of the subscription has not been adjusted to make sense in those areas? $7 (or $11 if you sign up through the App Stores) might not be a reach for most in some countries, but the cost could be quite limiting in others.

When Musk said that the purpose is about “treating everyone equally,” that also just doesn’t sit right with me, because it will inherently not treat everyone equally. It will give everyone the same opportunity — pay for Twitter Blue to get the better benefits of reach, visibility, etc on the platform — but those who don’t or can’t will not be treated the same.

Between this and Twitter preparing to launch a revamped, paid API, it looks like the company is on a path to really try and make the first, large-scale social network that only makes sense to be on if you pay. For everyone who has lived with the ad model for the last two decades, it’s hard not to at least be interested in going this route as Facebook and Instagram continue to get stuffed with advertising and worse for users.

Starting to see it become reality on Twitter, however, continues to highlight the damage that making a change in the business model could actually have. Is the ad model better? I hate myself for even thinking about it. But I can’t help doing so.

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TECH GADGET

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