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Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter hasn’t been finalized yet, but the world’s richest man is keeping busy by kicking around ideas for potential changes to the platform. His latest suggestion? Charging corporations and governments to tweet.
“Ultimately, the downfall of the Freemasons was giving away their stonecutting services for nothing,” tweeted Musk. “Twitter will always be free for casual users, but maybe a slight cost for commercial/government users.”
As is often the case with Musk, there’s no commitment to this plan: the guy’s just tweetin’. But it does fit in with what we’ve previously heard about Musk’s ideas for the platform. Reuters reported last month that, when pitching banks on his acquisition, Musk suggested he might charge media companies to quote or embed tweets. In each case the logic is simple: Twitter is currently free, people want the product, so why not charge for it?
Well, because these ideas seem obvious, but come with a lot of potential problems. In the case of charging to either a) quote or b) embed tweets, a) would be counter to the first amendment (not a great look if you’re promoting free speech) while b) would introduce all sorts of administrative headaches (tricky if Musk wants to reduce Twitter’s headcount). Mike Masnick of TechDirt has a great piece explaining these issues here.
By comparison, making governments and corporations pay to tweet is more straightforward, but still tricky to implement. For example, how big does a company have to be before you charge it to use Twitter? You probably don’t want The Coca-Cola Company to pay the same rate as a local brewery, for example. But if not, how do you differentiate? Do you scale charges based on number of followers (which might not reflect a company’s size), or revenue (which would need validation), or something else altogether? And how much do you charge, even on a tiered system? Ask too much and you’ll push people away — reducing the network effect that gives social media much of its value in the first place. Too little and it won’t make a difference to your revenue. And so on and so forth. These aren’t insoluble questions, but they’re not exactly simple, either.
At any rate, all this is vague speculation: we just don’t know what Musk plans to do with Twitter at this point. But this in itself is informative, as playing things by ear is apparently the modus operandi of the world’s richest man. A recent New York Times piece explored how Musk tends to disdain organized business plans when running his companies in favor of operating on instinct (and you can’t say he’s not been successful so far). Tweeting out ideas for changes to Twitter is just par for the course: let’s see where it goes next.