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Musk's X to charge users in Philippines and New Zealand $1 to use platform

Elon Musk, who owns X, is set to start charging new users of the platform $1 in the Philippines and New Zealand in an effort aimed at curbing bots.
Michel Euler
/
AP
Elon Musk, who owns X, is set to start charging new users of the platform $1 in the Philippines and New Zealand in an effort aimed at curbing bots.

X, formerly known as Twitter, will start charging users in the Philippines and New Zealand a $1 fee to use the service, a move owner Elon Musk says is aimed at curbing the presence of bots on the site.

The company announced the program, called Not a Bot, late Tuesday, saying the annual fee will apply to new users who want to post, like, reply and quote other content on the platform. Reading posts on the site's timeline will be possible without a charge.

Musk hinted at a paywall in the works for users of X in a September interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming that it may be the only way "to combat vast armies of bots."

The idea is that by charging "a few dollars or something" it could deter the creation of new fake accounts since bots just cost "a fraction of a penny" to create, Musk told Netanyahu.

If the annual fees for using the site are applied more widely, it would mark a major departure for the social media service, which has been free to use since it was founded in 2006.

It is unclear why the company chose to start annual fees in the Philippines and New Zealand. Whether and when the initiative will reach other users around the world is also not known. The $1-a-year fee plan was first reported by Fortune.

Cracking down on bots, also known as spam or fake accounts, that mimic real people, has been a focus of Musk since he purchased the platform last year. But despite his best efforts, bots do still remain a persistent problem.

Since Musk's takeover, he has made other drastic changes, including reducing staff by more than 75% and making "verified" blue check marks available for $8 a month.

While Musk says the $1 annual subscription experiment is not aimed at making money, the company has been struggling financially in the face of changes made under the billionaire that have created new levels of chaos and mayhem on the site.

Musk himself has said that advertising revenue on the platform is down 60% since his takeover.

Fewer people are using X, too.

New figures from web traffic tracking firm SimilarWeb show that global web traffic to the site is down 14% compared to last year. In the U.S., which makes up about a quarter of its web traffic, the platform experienced a nearly 20% decline in traffic compared to year-ago figures.

Still, new X CEO Linda Yaccarino, a former ad executive, said recently that the company could be profitable by early next year, as she works to bring back skittish advertisers who left the platform since Musk assumed the reins.

The Israel-Gaza war has tested X in new ways. Since the violence erupted, a flood of bogus claims, unsubstantiated rumors and other falsehoods have inundated the platform.

Critics of X point to changes in the site's incentive structure as one reason for the surge in disinformation.

For instance, users who pay for a Twitter Blue subscription, affixing a "verification" badge to their profile, can make money off posts that go viral, spurring many to take advantage of misleading posts in order to earn a profit.

X's handling of disinformation and illegal content on the site since the war started has led to an investigation by the European Commission. Under a European Union law known as the Digital Services Act, social platforms must quickly remove illegal content such as hate speech, incitements of violence, and harmful disinformation. Failing to do could trigger fees equivalent to 6% of a company's annual global revenue.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.