By Sudeep Sonawane
Surat, November 8, 2022
New Twitter owner Elon Musk Sunday started charging Twitter Blue users, or those with verified accounts, US $7.99 a month. He gained Twitter ownership after buying 9.2 percent shares of the social media site on April 4 and completed the deal on October 27, for US $44 billion,
Why this fee? What is special about blue ticks? Twitter’s Help Centre page says, “The blue verified badge on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic. To receive the blue badge, your account must be authentic, notable, and active.”
In a statement released Saturday, Twitter said, “A blue checkmark, previously reserved for verified accounts primarily held by celebrities, politicians, companies, and news outlets, now comes with “half the ads” and “much better ones” and priority in replies, mentions and searches.”
The San Francisco, California based company further said, Twitter Blue subscribers will receive fewer ads, they could post long videos, and to get priority ranking for quality content.
Twitter will adjust the pricing “proportionate to purchasing power parity” of the country. This implies American users will pay more compared with say, users in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India.
Musk has paid huge money to buy the social media site which allows users to tell other users what they eat, drink, give opinions on all topics, and abuse others who have different views. The Tesla owner is now Twitter’s largest shareholder. Mutual fund company Vanguard comes second with 8.8 percent, and Twitter Co-founder and former chief executive Jack Patrick Dorsey brings up the rear with 2.3 percent stake.
Musk revamps Twitter
Musk revamped Twitter immediately after takeover. He dismissed chief executive Parag Agrawal and more than 90 percent of Twitter India staff. Musk said he will permanently suspend fake Twitter accounts and those impersonating other people. “Twitter will permanently suspend without warning parody accounts,” Musk said in a tweet.
Musk has a longer-term plan of promoting his companies, political friends, and shaping public opinion. Most business people, political parties and celebrities promote their agenda since the invention of mass communications applications and sites.
Musk and his new Twitter team rejigging its revenue model is justifiable. A Wall Street Journal report says Twitter has suffered “a massive drop in revenue” because of advertisers cutting back on using the social-media platform. Therefore, his critics and rivals cannot call him ‘greedy’ for aiming good returns on his high investment. Everybody does business for profits. Social media sites are no different.
Many blue badge users, mainly politicians, business people, actors, musicians, and sportspersons, will perforce pay the monthly fee of $7.99. They will gladly pay this fee to remain relevant in public space. Other users, [refer Nepalminute poll] more than three times the number of blue badge users, will not pay for this premium service. They would happily switch to ordinary Twitter account. Most ordinary users are from developing countries.
Most Nepalis will not pay
Nepalminute reporters interviewed many Twitter users in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan and other provinces. Most will not pay $8 [NPR 1,049.21 @ 1$= NPR 131.52 as on Nov 8] a month for account verified status. Many users are ready to pay for the premium service. Not surprisingly, they come from high-income group.
In a Twitter poll conducted by Nepalminute.com, majority of Twitter users, or 75 percent, said they would not pay $8 a month for a verified account. The poll that ended on November 5 shows 25 percent of Twitter users in Nepal would willing to pay $8 every month for a verified account.
Like India, Nepal (refer graph) is not a big market for Twitter. Yet the poll results show how users see the social media company’s move towards profitability in developing countries like Nepal.
According to http://www.datareportal.com, Nepal has around 418,000 Twitter users. This number is 1.39 percent of the country’s population of around 30 million.
Nepalminute.com did a separate question and answer with prominent public figures here. Most said no, but a few Twitter users said they would pay $8 a month for the blue checkmark.
Senior journalist and activist Kanak Mani Dixit tweeted, “I will not pay $8 a month.” Law student Prabhakar Bagchand echoed, “I will not.” Activist Suman Mandal offered a different view. “Social media users are not consumers. They are products. Social media platforms mint money out of your content. They should pay you instead.”
Economist Chandan Sapkota hoped Twitter would offer discount to Nepali users, saying, “It might cost less than $8 for Nepali users. He quoted Musk saying, “Price adjusted by country is proportional to purchasing power parity.”
Civil servant and author Bishwa Kuinkel said Nepalis might not pay. “That can happen only once upon a time,” he tweeted.
Techie Utsav Shakya tweeted, “Many Nepalis might not subscribe, but its success will depend on what features that $8 unlocks. The idea itself is flawed. If Twitter is not going to be a platform for diverse, marginalised voices, its utility value is minimal.”
Journalist Bidhya Rai offered a different view likening Musk’s seemingly bold move to that of Harka Sampang, Mayor of Dharan city in eastern Nepal, who has been urging all city-dwellers and visitors to offer free labour at construction sites.
Effect of Musk takeover
The first change Musk will make impacts Twitter users. While he negotiated the takeover, wrote Eloise Barry for Time this April, Musk had “pledged to overhaul the platform’s content moderation tactics in a move that would promote what he considers free speech”.
One of Musk’s first decisions was to dismiss Vijaya Gadde, an American attorney. She served as general counsel and the head of legal, policy, and trust at Twitter. Her role included handling harassment, misinformation, and harmful speech.
Earlier this month, Twitter locked out several content-moderation staff. Now, just 15 employees have access to content moderation tools. Many people, mainly from civil society and politicians, oppose the unshackling of content moderation. They fear trenchant criticism and backlash from Twitter users ahead of mid-term elections in the US.
A Bloomberg report quoted Twitter’s Head of Safety and Integrity as saying, “The restrictions reduce opportunities for ‘insider risk’. Twitter staff told Bloomberg “This could cause misinformation to surge ahead of the midterm elections”.
India has a similar misinformation risk. Two states will hold legislative assembly polls. Himachal Pradesh goes to polls on November 12 and Gujarat, in two phases, on December 1 and 5. This will not impact political parties because the number of Twitter users in India is small. Their opinions and content will not make any difference to poll results.
Although an Indian-American Sriram Krishnan is helping Musk run Twitter, many observers fear an anti-India story post Musk takeover. Musk has had a blow hot, blow cold ties with India. He closed Tesla electric car’s office in India saying, “India’s import and duty structure makes electric cars unaffordable for the Indian user.”
In the US, Conservatives and anti-vaccine groups have lobbied with Musk to revoke bans on their activists since he took over Twitter. Earlier in May, Musk had said he would “reverse the permanent twitter ban on former President Donald Trump.”
In an open letter to Musk last Saturday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk urged him to “ensure human rights are central to the management of Twitter” under Musk’s leadership. The letter follows reports of the sacking of Twitter’s entire human rights team and all but two of the ethical AI team – not “an encouraging start,” said Türk.
Nepalminute’s conclusion: High net worth business people like Musk have the right to buy shares in any company and takeover through majority share. He has the right to run his company as he wants, providing he complies with statutory laws. The people, institutions and political parties squealing and complaining after Musk’s Twitter takeover are the ones who enjoyed its benefits under previous teams headed by Dorsey and Agrawal. As Justin Timberlake’s hit song says, “What goes around, comes around!”
[Sudeep Sonawane, an India-based journalist, has worked in five countries in the Middle East and Asia. Email: [firstname.lastname@example.org]