Although Elon Musk has not yet completed his acquisition of Twitter, the world’s wealthiest man is still busy generating ideas for possible changes to the platform. His latest suggestion? Charging governments and corporations to tweet. Musk tweeted, “Ultimately, the downfall for the Freemasons consisted in giving away their stonecutting service for nothing.” “Twitter will always be free for casual users, but maybe a slight cost for commercial/government users.”
Musk isn’t committing to this plan, as is so often the case. He’s just tweetin’. It does however fit with what we have previously heard about Musk’s plans for the platform. Reuters reported last month, that Musk suggested to banks that he might charge media companies for embedding tweets or quoting them. Each case is a simple one: Twitter is free and people want it, so why not charge them?
Twitter will always be free for casual users, but maybe a slight cost for commercial/government users– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 3, 2022
These ideas are obvious but can lead to a lot of problems. The idea of charging to embed tweets or to quote tweets would be a violation of the first amendment. This is a problem if you want to promote free speech. However, b) would create administrative headaches. It would also make it difficult for Musk to reduce Twitter’s staff. TechDirt’s Mike Masnick has a great article explaining these issues.
While it is simpler to make corporations and governments pay to tweet, it is still difficult to implement. How big must a company be to charge Twitter use? It’s unlikely that you want The Coca-Cola Company paying the same rate as local breweries. If not, how can you differentiate? Are you charging by followers (which may not be representative of a company’s actual size), revenue (which would require validation), or some other factor? What is the average charge for a tiered system? Too much will make people leave and reduce the network effect that gives social networks their value. Too much and it won’t make any difference to your revenue. And so on. These aren’t insoluble problems, but they’re not easy to answer.
All of this speculation is speculative at best. We don’t know what Musk will do with Twitter at the moment. This is a good thing, because it is the mode of operation of the world’s wealthiest man. A New York Times article recently explored how Musk prefers to operate on instinct rather than following business plans when running his businesses. It’s normal to tweet out ideas for Twitter changes: let’s see what happens next.