Billionaire Elon Musk was hit with fierce backlash after saying he is "moving towards" charging a fee for all users of X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, in order to "combat vast armies of bots."
Musk discussed the possibility of turning the platform into a paid subscription service during a live-streamed conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I’d say the single most important reason we’re moving towards having a small monthly payment for use of the X system is that it’s the only way I can think of to combat vast armies of bots."
“A bot costs a fraction of a penny, but if somebody has to pay a few dollars or something … you have to get a new payment method every time you have a new bot.”
“We want it to be a small amount of money. This is a longer discussion, but in my view, this is actually the only defense against the vast armies of bots.”
You can hear what Musk said in the video below.
During the conversation, Musk also disclosed new metrics for X, revealing that the platform now has 550 million monthly users who generate 100 to 200 million posts daily. However, it remains unclear whether these figures include automated accounts, such as news feeds and spammers.
Musk did not provide details about when or how X's subscription model might be implemented.
Since Musk assumed control of the platform in the previous year, the company has been encouraging users to subscribe to its paid subscription product, X Premium (formerly Twitter Blue), which offers features like the ability to edit posts, reduced ad content, prioritized search rankings, and longer posts for $8 per month or $84 per year.
To measure how unpopular paying a fee to use X would be, one user asked the online community whether they'd pay or leave, with the overwhelming majority—96.8 percent—saying they'd exit even as the poll remains active.
Musk's announcement has been harshly criticized.
While X has not disclosed the number of paid subscribers, independent research suggests that X Premium has not attracted a majority of X users.
Reports from last year indicated that Musk was considering placing all of X behind a paywall, with a possible free limited browsing model to encourage subscriptions, in an effort to boost revenue following the loss of major advertisers.
The billionaire's efforts to compensate for the revenue loss resulting from the mass exodus of advertisers after substantial layoffs, including those in safety and moderation roles, have proven to be highly unsuccessful thus far.
By April 2023, there were only 640,000 users subscribed to Twitter Blue, falling far short of Musk's expectations. This number is also woefully insufficient to cover the annual $1 billion interest on the loans he acquired to purchase the company.
Some have speculated that Musk's consideration of such a move might be an attempt to emulate China's approach with WeChat, aimed at gaining access to the banking data of millions of individuals for resale to other companies seeking to intensify their advertising efforts.