Elon Musk Considering Paywall for New X Users to Fight the Bots

The entrepreneur said this might be the only way to combat bots on the platform.
Elon Musk Considering Paywall for New X Users to Fight the Bots
The X logo (formerly Twitter) on a smartphone screen in Los Angeles, Calif., on July 31, 2023. (Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images)
Bill Pan

As spam bots persist on X, Elon Musk is considering charging a fee for new users to activate the social media platform’s posting function.

In reply to an X account that posted about changes on the social platform, the billionaire X owner on Monday argued that charging a “small fee” to new accounts was the “only way” to stop the “onslaught of bots.”

“Current AI (and troll farms) can pass ‘are you a bot’ with ease,” he said, referring to existing anti-spam, anti-bot tests like CAPTCHA.
While replying to another user, Mr. Musk explained that new users may choose to not pay a fee but will have to wait for three months to be able to post.

“They will be able to do write actions for free after 3 months,” he said.

There is yet to be a timeline for the implementation of this policy.

Earlier this month, X said that it is kicking off a “significant, proactive initiative” to kill spam accounts, warning users that their follower count might be affected. The announcement came amid rising user complaints about pervasive bots on X in the months following Mr. Musk’s $44 billion purchase of Twitter and its rebranding as X.

This is not the first time Mr. Musk, who promised “to defeat the spam bots or die trying,” floated the idea of charging a monthly fee for use of the platform. He suggested that such a change would be necessary to tackle the bot problem.

Last October, Mr. Musk announced an experiment that charged a $1 per year fee for “new unverified” X users in New Zealand and the Philippines to interact with posts. New users signing up for the platform from these regions could read X posts but couldn’t like, reply, quote, or repost until they paid the fee.

According to X’s official support account, the experiment program was not a profit driver but rather designed to curb spam bots.

“This new test was developed to bolster our already successful efforts to reduce spam, manipulation of our platform, and bot activity while balancing platform accessibility with the small fee amount,” the company said. “It is not a profit driver.”

“And so far, subscription options have proven to be the main solution that works at scale,” it added.

The experiment came a month after Mr. Musk said in a live-streamed conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his company was “moving to a small monthly payment.”

“It’s the only way I can think of to combat vast armies of bots,” he told the Israeli leader. “Because a bot costs a fraction of a penny—call it a tenth of a penny. But even if it has to pay … a few dollars or something, the effective cost of bots is very high.”

This would also mean that every time a bot operator wants to make a new automated account, they would have to find another new payment method, according to Mr. Musk.

As for now, X has only one $8 premium subscription plan. This $8-per-month or $84-per-year service offers a variety of features like the ability to write longer posts, edit posts, see half the ads that non-subscribers and basic subscribers will see, be prioritized in search and conversations, and more.

However, according to recently uncovered code, the platform might introduce a three-tier subscription plan, with one being completely ad-free.
According to a report by Bloomberg, X chief executive Linda Yaccarino told the company’s lending banks last October that the current $8 premium subscription would be split into three different plans: basic, standard and plus, with different price tags.

While it’s not clear when this system will go live, code found in the X app’s already indicates a “Premium Basic,” “Premium Standard,” and “Premium Plus” plan, which have full ads, half ads, or no ads, respectively.