“Now You Pay $8”: Grading Elon Musk’s Twitter Ideas

From mass layoffs to reviving the short video app, Elon Musk has lots of potential plans for his new company. Here's a guide to Musk's good, bad, and ugly options.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 2: The Twitter logo is posted on the exterior of Twitter headquarters on October 28, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Getty Images

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Elon Musk is moving fast. The billionaire entrepreneur closed his Twitter deal last Thursday and is already making significant changes. In one week, he’s introduced a plan to charge for verification, revealed a major content moderation initiative, and even looked into reviving Vine.

With Musk’s vision for the platform taking shape, we can now evaluate what he’s doing vs. what he might. And while the broader conversation may be frenzied, it cools down a bit when you focus on his actions. Some are quite sensible.

So this week, let’s evaluate Musk’s initiatives on the merits:

Charging $8 for ‘Verified’ Badges

Perhaps as soon as Monday, Musk will charge $8 a month for a ‘verified’ checkmark and other benefits, including ad reduction and increased discoverability. His ‘pay $8’ plan was bound to annoy his most influential users, since it takes their money and cheapens their status symbol. But if adopted en masse, widespread verification could help sift out spam. Creating armies of troll accounts would be less enticing for $8/month each.

Some protests against this plan are valid. Paid verification will make it harder to uncover impersonators. It will also disincentivize power users—already leaving—from staying active. So there’s risk. But the plan also makes Twitter’s users its customers, displacing advertisers, and aligns the platform’s incentives with the people’s interests.

Bottom Line: There’s reason to be wary, but the outcry is excessive. Paid verification might backfire, but it’s worth trying.

Bringing Back Vine

Musk may bring back Vine, the short-form video app Twitter killed in 2016. Vine’s swift rise revealed people’s interest in very short, looping videos. But its swift fall showed its limitations. Its initial six-second constraint proved too short. And its follow model—instead of AI recommendations—feels antiquated now.

Vine died a ghost town after Twitter refused to pay its creators, and they left it empty. With generous creator funds now established at YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, it would be difficult (if not impossible) to win creators back to Vine. Plus there’s an AI deficit.

Instead of bringing back Vine, Twitter could consider alternatives like bringing short-form videos into the main app. “Getting the inventory of content (to a state that’s competitive with TikTok) will be arduous,” Gas founder Nikita Bier said in a reply to Musk this week. “Better to build on a video feed inside of Twitter.”

Bottom Line: Reviving Vine won’t do much. Let it stay dead.

Content Moderation Council

Musk initially indicated he wanted to permit all legal speech on Twitter. But after taking over, he’s kept the suspension of Donald Trump and others in place. For someone who billed himself as a free speech absolutist, his actions are showing a more deliberative approach to content moderation.

Musk now plans to form a “content moderation council” with a wide array of viewpoints, and won’t make any significant content decisions or reinstate accounts until it convenes. Twitter, meanwhile, removed more than 1,500 accounts engaged in hate speech this week. “To be super clear,’ Musk said, “We have not yet made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies.” It’s early, but these actions speak volumes.

Musk did not help his case when he tweeted a conspiracy about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi. As CEO of Twitter, his behavior signals to users what he’d like to see on the platform. That was a poor signal.

Bottom Line: Musk’s more thoughtful approach to content moderation is a surprise. But a good one. Deliberative decisions on content policy are better for Twitter’s business and society.

Paying content creators 

Twitter’s heaviest users are in absolute decline, and it’s hard to overstate how bad that is for the platform. The moment feels like Facebook’s original sharing decline, reported on in 2016, which presaged the News Feed’s diminishment.

Musk must fix this issue, and rewarding content creators is one way to do it. After taking over Twitter, Musk was emphatic about creator payments. “Absolutely essential,” he said Tuesday. “Creators need to make a living!” This would reverse a tradition at Twitter, dating back to the Vine days, where paying creators hasn’t been popular.

Bottom Line: This is one step among many Twitter must take to keep its most active users. Success depends on the details.

Deleting inactive accounts

Twitter is littered with inactive accounts. When it was a public company, it couldn’t easily delete them since there was hope they could reactivate and provide the growth Wall Street wanted. With Twitter now private, Musk doesn’t need to juice daily active user numbers so he can delete the inactives. Asked if he’d purge all inactive accounts this week, Musk replied, “Definitely.”

Bottom Line: Twitter doesn’t need to be a scrap heap of social media misadventure. Purging dead accounts would add vibrancy to the network.

Mass Layoffs

Musk is preparing to lay off approximately 3,700 employees, or about half of staff, per reports. Removing that many people so early on means Musk will make mistakes. While cutting costs at Twitter was inevitable given the debt Musk took on to finance this deal—and one could argue Twitter’s employees weren’t productive enough—these layoffs seem reckless.

Bottom line: Cost-cutting makes sense. Having to pay exorbitant consulting fees to ex-employees when you need their expertise? Less so.

“Now You Pay $8”: Grading Elon Musk’s Twitter Ideas