Rachael Berkey
Sep 22, 2023

Twitter / X paywall? No one will pay for a town square without value

Amidst a flurry of changes, dropping ad revenues and now, possible subscription models, Clarity's Rachael Berkey gets real about why she won't be paying for 'Elon Musk’s shell of a global town square'.

Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.

Unlike many consumers of the free internet, I’m not against the latest lifeboat Elon Musk seems to be trying to build via live conversations with world leaders.

After all, if something is free, something else is the revenue-generating product—usually the user and all the data that can be collected about their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

But I won’t be paying for Elon Musk’s shell of a global town square. It implies the value of the conversation there hasn’t changed, but it deeply has since his takeover in November.

In that time, he’s lost two heads of trust and safety. He’s turned verification into a pay-for-play scheme while empowering a community that embraces hateful conduct under the guise of defending free speech. He’s also continued to use the platform to incite bullying, doxxing, and misinformation.

Given this, it is hard to see why anyone would want to pay to participate in the platform as we know it today.

Twitter as we knew it just a year ago had value beyond its 368 million monthly active users; it brought users directly to celebrities, brands of all sizes, politicians, and breaking news in an era of global connection. Sure, your tweet at Taylor Swift might be one in a million, but there was still the chance she might see it and respond. And the community guidelines were largely there to protect the average user from hate, abuse, and grift.

Those guidelines and their enforcement also lowered risks for advertisers and brands to associate with Twitter. Musk’s actions have seen a 50 per cent decrease in ad revenue, demonstrating those feelings of safety are gone. Dive into any private group of social media professionals and you will find discussions not just of risk and liability, but morality and pure value in continuing to use the platform for promotion. What if my brand ends up next to an antisemitic tweet and someone takes a screenshot? Are our customers even using it anymore? Very quietly, do we want the customers who are still using the platform if they’re participating in the free-for-all?

While the conversation of whether a brand should pay versus an individual is different, it includes these questions. One professional paying for it could be inadvisable, but a brand may find, after research, there's an active community of customers still using X who they must prioritise reaching. It will come down to their research and internal marketing priorities.

Regardless, we simply do not yet know enough about this proposal to charge the common user to participate to say whether it will save or kill the platform. Today, this sounds like more of a death knell than a life raft. And it begs the question: if you want me to pay, does that mean you will stop selling my data in exchange for my subscription? Something tells me that Musk will find more revenue in user data than in users themselves.

Rachael Berkey is VP of social strategy at Clarity.


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