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.

NEWSWORTHY

A TikTok ban would leave a hole in businesses’ marketing strategies. TikTok has helped companies discover what’s trending and use it to inform strategy. But a TikTok ban would cause the reach and revenue of small-business owners to take a hit. For Melissa Chapman, CEO of production company Jungle Creations, the app is a powerful way to boost the cultural relevance of brands. “No other platform does this as successfully,” Chapman said.

Alibaba’s restructuring. China’s online commerce leader Alibaba has announced plans to transform into six business units, splitting up the $250 billion empire cofounded by Jack Ma 24 years ago. The move will separate businesses like Alibaba’s cloud business and its digital media group, and analysts told Bloomberg that the breakup could result in several initial public offerings. In early New York trading Tuesday, its US-listed shares jumped 12%.

Changing of the guard at Lyft. The trend of tech founders stepping back from the CEO role at their companies, which has included Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, continued on Monday when Lyft CEO Logan Green announced that he and cofounder John Zimmer were moving into non-executive roles on the board of directors. The duo will be replaced by David Risher, a former Amazon executive, in the CEO role. The leadership change comes as Lyft has seen its ride-hailing business rival Uber continue to steal market share in the US and as the company continues to lose money.

ON OUR FEED

“We have not yet seen a lot of evidence that our constituents should be putting their money in these speculative tokens unless they are prepared to lose all their money.”

—Harriett Baldwin, chair of the UK’s Treasury Select Committee, on the government’s announcement that it is no longer producing a non-fungible token for sale through the Royal Mint

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Elon Musk takes a shot at Bill Gates in ongoing feud, saying the Microsoft founder’s understanding of AI is ‘limited,’ by Eleanor Pringle

The crypto industry enlisted an unlikely champion in its crusade against the SEC: An ex-Coinbase manager convicted of insider tradingby Leo Schwartz

Uber Eats pares its menu and removes thousands of virtual brandsby Chris Morris

SVB staff claim they got up to 50% of their salaries in company equity—now some may have have lost millions in its collapseby Eleanor Pringle

Sam Bankman-Fried bribed Chinese officials to the tune of $40 million as he got desperate about frozen Alameda funds, new DOJ charge claimsby Leo Schwartz

BEFORE YOU GO

Amazon Sidewalk is here. Amazon is now shipping kits for Sidewalk, its long-range wireless network that connects Internet of Things devices. Accessible to 90% of the US population, Amazon says that a mobile software development kit for iOS and Android devices will speed up integration of Sidewalk technology into developers’ mobile apps, and a separate tools app will help users debug and troubleshoot in the field. Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices and Services, said the team has rapidly built out the network since it was announced in 2019. Many types of connected devices have been limited by the range of Wi-Fi and the cost of cellular technology, which has hindered the ability to connect devices such as environmental sensors, leak detectors, and smart locks,” Limp said. “Sidewalk is designed to provide a secure, low-cost way to invent and connect a whole new range of devices, and we can’t wait to see what the developers build.”

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