image (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
X (formerly Twitter) CEO Elon Musk proposed implementing a small monthly fee for its users to gain access to the platform. Its main purpose is to “combat vast armies of bots,” according to Musk in a live stream with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.
The app is also dealing with financial issues as the company still has negative cash flow due to about a 50% drop in advertising revenue and a heavy debt load, Musk reported in July.
Bots are capable of profoundly impacting online discourse. The large presence of bots almost derailed Musk’s takeover of the social media giant. Before officially buying the company, Musk asked Twitter to prove less than five percent of the accounts were fake.
Active bots account for 1-14% of active users, according to Yale Professor of Operations Management Tauhid Zaman, who ran a study focusing on the online discourse surrounding the first impeachment of then-President Donald Trump.
Zaman found that although bots only accounted for 1% of the active users, the 1% produced 31% of the tweets. These tweets reach a mass amount of people, as 24% of active users follow at least one of the 1% of bots. These tweets circulate and manipulate the opinions of many users.
“Imagine hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of Twitter users having their timelines continuously flooded with bot tweets for weeks, months, or years,” Zaman stated. “Over time, this can have a persuasive effect on a large population. If the bots are operated by malicious actors, this can pose a threat to the population.”
Musk claims his company’s efforts to eliminate bots have led to a 90% decrease in fake accounts on the platform. According to the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Councill, many data scientists report that the problem remains persistent.
Charlie Beckett, a London School of Economics Professor, said to Business Insider that he doubts that Musk “ is introducing charges to combat bots because he’s shown no interest in effective moderation up to now.”
“It doesn’t make much financial sense because any serious charge that could raise significant revenue would end up driving people onto alternative networks,” Beckett continued.
Musk may have concrete plans to initiate the pay-to-play program soon.
This initiative would be the CEO’s second attempt at having users pay in an effort to combat bots and raise additional revenue. Musk previously launched Twitter Blue, where users would pay $8 monthly for verification. The blue check was formerly only available as verification for popular accounts.
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