Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the world’s richest man is keeping busy by throwing around ideas for possible platform modifications. What’s his most recent suggestion? Corporations and governments are being charged for tweeting.
“Ultimately, the Freemasons’ demise was giving away their stonecutting talents for free,” Musk tweeted. “Twitter will always be free for casual users, but commercial/government users may incur a small fee.”
Musk, as is typical of him, has made no commitment to this strategy: he’s just tweeting. However, it corresponds to what we’ve already learned about Musk’s plans for the platform. According to Reuters, Musk discussed charging media businesses to cite or embed tweets when pitching banks on his acquisition last month. The rationale is straightforward in each case: Twitter is now free, and people want it, so why not charge for it?
Because, while these principles appear clear, they are fraught with potential pitfalls. In the event of charging to a) quote or b) embed tweets, a) it would be a violation of the first amendment (not a good look if you’re advocating free speech), and b) it would cause a slew of administrative issues (which would be problematic if Musk wanted to cut Twitter’s staff). TechDirt’s Mike Masnick has a nice essay detailing these difficulties here.
Making governments and companies pay to tweet, on the other hand, is more easy but still difficult to accomplish. How big does a firm have to be before it can be charged to use Twitter, for example? You don’t want The Coca-Cola Company, for example, to pay the same rate as a local brewery. But, if that’s not the case, how can you set yourself apart? Do you charge depending on the number of followers (which may or may not represent the size of a firm), income (which would require validation), or something else entirely?
And, even on a tiered system, how much do you charge? If you ask too much, you’ll alienate individuals, lessening the network effect that makes social media so valuable in the first place. If you spend too little, your income will suffer. etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., These aren’t unsolvable problems, but they’re also not easy to solve.
In any case, all of this is merely conjecture at this point: we have no idea what Musk wants to do with Twitter. However, this is instructive in and of itself, as the world’s richest man appears to operate on the basis of improvisation. Musk, according to a recent New York Times article, prefers to operate on instinct rather than planned business strategies when running his firms (and you can’t argue he hasn’t been successful so far). It’s standard procedure to tweet out suggestions for modifications to Twitter; let’s see where it goes next.