Twitter will kick nonpaying users out of its main feed

Twitter will soon display only tweets from Twitter Blue members in the algorithmically curated “For You” feed that users see by default, CEO Elon Musk has announced. The change will take effect from April 15—two weeks after Twitter is due to start removing the “legacy” blue checks from users who are merely notable and haven’t agreed to pony up $8 a month for Twitter Blue.

In other words, the next few weeks will see Twitter become a much more stratified service. It was already the case that Twitter Blue subscribers could post longer tweets than regular users, but now they will also have exclusive access to the platform’s primary amplification system. (Disclosures: Like many journalists, I have for many years been granted a blue tick to verify the authenticity of my account; and as I won’t pay for the new kind of blue tick, I will rejoin the unwashed masses come Saturday. Life is hard.)

There’s a rich irony in Musk’s Twitter planning to algorithmically suppress the output of certain kinds of accounts—in this case, those belonging to people who cannot or will not pay. In the parlance popularized by people like Elon Musk, this is what is known as “shadowbanning.” It was apparently a very bad thing to do—until it wasn’t.

Musk’s justification for making the change—that it’s “the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over”—is also highly debatable. There’s already evidence to suggest that Twitter’s shift to paid verification has helped pro-Russian accounts circulate disinformation, and that the company has approved dodgy bots as Twitter Blue subscribers.

That said, bots are a real problem, and the explosion in easily accessible AI capabilities will quickly make them harder to spot and therefore more dangerous. All social platforms have a major AI bot challenge on their plate, so Twitter’s success or failure in tackling the issue through paid verification will prove instructive, one way or the other.

Similarly, we are about to learn the true value of the Twitter Blue tick. If it turns out that the masses love seeing a stream of tweets from people who have paid to promote their thoughts, then everyone’s a winner. Alternatively, it may turn out that those with deeper pockets don’t necessarily produce the most scintillating content, in which case people will either switch to the Following feed—embarrassing for Musk and for Twitter Blue subscribers, as it takes a lot to make most people shun defaults—or just stop using Twitter so much, which would make the service less attractive to advertisers. Either way, there will be implications for Twitter’s revenue streams.

I’m keen to know your thoughts on this one—personally I wouldn’t be caught dead paying to amplify my tweets, but then again I’m a late Generation Xer who still sees “selling out” as a bad thing—so drop me an e-mail or a tweets on the subject, if you feel so inclined.

David Mayer

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman.


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