Mary McNamara Los Angeles Times
Before we get to Elon Musk and his bizarre attempt to kick everyone of any importance from the website he now owns, let’s take a deep breath and remember that most people, celebrated or not, aren’t on Twitter.
I realize that Musk is the richest man in the world and therefore everything he does is of interest to those who aspire to earn crazy sums of money. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that whatever he plans for the so-called social media site he just bought really won’t be that bad – since only 23% of American adults use (and 25% of them are responsible for 97% of posts).
If you want comps, 23% of American adults also plan to quit their job within 12 months, have absolutely no sex, meet CDC exercise guidelines, have shared fabricated news (intentionally or unintentionally) and prefer winter holidays.
It’s probably not the same 23% doing all of these things (although there is surely some overlap). But let’s stick with apples to apples: Compared to Americans who use Facebook (65%) or Instagram (40%), Twitter is small.
People also read…
And could get smaller even as we speak; Musk’s recent proposal to charge for the blue check signifying a verified account, as well as his own membership in that 23% who share fabricated news, has driven many people off the site.
Or at least talk about fleeing the site. As is often the case on Twitter, it’s hard to tell what’s real or not, because beyond sharing cute pet videos and yelling at each other about politics, there’s nothing people on Twitter like to do more than discuss how much they hate Twitter.
Which has always been a little weird and now seems, well, crazy. I mean, every time you tweet something about how much you hate what Elon Musk is going to do on the platform he currently owns, you send a mixed message at best. Like it or not, he’s the captain now; we provide it with content.
And soon we may have to pay for the privilege.
I can’t claim to have Musk’s commercial success, but playing with blue checks might not be the best way to go. Media amplification is one of the things that has made Twitter a cultural force despite its relatively small numbers. People such as presidents, the Pope and Taylor Swift use Twitter to make statements or react to events, knowing that other platforms will then spread this information. Without the blue check, news outlets will no longer be able to treat posts much like mini press conferences.
On the other hand, journalists sharing information and contacting sources via Twitter use the blue check to verify their credentials; what news outlets will do with their reporters’ accounts under Musk’s proposal remains to be seen.
Musk’s pay-for-verification proposal reflects the realization of something those of us in mainstream media have known forever – content is never free. “We have to pay the bills one way or another,” he pleaded Tuesday in a Twitter exchange with author Stephen King. King had informed his followers that he wouldn’t pay $19.99 for a blue check — and besides, the site would have to pay him, a well-paid writer who writes on Twitter in a way that attracts users and advertisers .
Musk countered with a personal offer of $8 a month, which he then extended to everyone. He may have lost King, but what a saving for the rest of us!
Twitter’s great exodus — much like Musk’s ever-changing plan du jour — may or may not happen. But anyway, it won’t affect most Americans; this is just the latest example of platforms once known as new media realizing that there really is a piper and it doesn’t accept crypto.
Netflix hit a similar wall a few months ago when it realized that not everyone wanted to pay for its services. After hemorrhaging subscribers, the company saw growth in the last quarter, but as any TV writer in town except Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes can tell you, the glory days of deals at nine digits and perpetual green lights are gone.
More than 85% of Americans have at least one streaming service, but the competition to be that one is getting fiercer. And in terms of producing new content, the industry is shrinking. Turns out, too much TV isn’t good for business; it just makes everyone want to comfort 90s sitcoms and British murder mysteries.
As various streamers swap libraries, raise their prices, and make their original business model “premium” while experimenting with lower prices that include advertising, cord cutting proves to be just as costly and confusing as satellite TV. cable.
And now it includes ads! Which unlike the old days of DVR, you can’t fast forward!
So if you’re crazy about people being asked to pay to be verified on Twitter, just remember that other people are also being asked to pay for a streaming service that now includes ads.
The more things change… the more people realize that someone has to pay the bills.
The mainstream media, including the Times, learned this lesson the hard way. At the start of the digital revolution, many networks, news outlets and publishing platforms put their content online for free in the unconscious belief that it would somehow act as a second platform. And wouldn’t that be great for bringing the real product to market? Hahahaha.
When it turned out that digital was the only platform for a growing number of viewers, many organizations, including this one, had to start charging for what they once gave away for free. Not a good business model, kids! But the one you can see playing out every time someone complains that they really wanted to read this article/see this show, except they “hit the fucking paywall”.
It’s true; digital content is not magic. It is not created and people expect to be paid for their work.
Even on social media sites. If we’re being honest, it’s been a long time since the term “social” has been an accurate description of the platforms so widely used for advertising, marketing, and promotion. Many Twitter users, including me and The Times, can take advantage of the freedom of speech, conversations and sense of community that the platform offers, but we also use it to direct users to products that they have to pay.
Influencers — and those auditioning for the role — are the inevitable collision between social and marketable made manifest. Under capitalism, there’s nothing that can’t be monetized in some way, including shared photos of your kids’ graduation, and if that can’t be monetized in some one way or another, it won’t last very long.
And whatever you do, don’t click on a social media ad – a year later and those damn Title IX skirts are still following me everywhere.
It will be years before we begin to understand the impact these platforms have had on our culture, but one thing they haven’t done is create a new business model. The people who built these sites did it to make money and that money has to come from somewhere.
Musk says adding a premium membership to Twitter will alleviate some of the difficulties people have in getting verified — eight bucks a month and you’re good — and that money will “give Twitter a revenue stream to reward content creators”. Now, I’m not sure exactly what he means by “reward” – it could mean money or a boost or a trading card with Musk’s face on it.
The thing is, Musk almost admits that Twitter, like Netflix, is no longer a “new medium.” If you’re trying to find ways to raise subscription fees while attracting advertisers, well, welcome to the world of old media, Elon.
Which raises another old media concern: I wonder how long companies like Macy’s will want to spend money on a platform that allows its users, including its owner, to spread misinformation? Or engage in hate trolls disguised as free speech? One of the many things Twitter is good at is organizing a boycott.
The only thing that’s really new is the idea that content providers, who were already working for free, are now being asked to pay for the privilege of creating the content that will pay the bills.
There’s nothing social about it; it’s just unleashed capitalism. Perhaps the small percentage of Americans who use Twitter will refuse to pay – the tweeters of the world will unite; we have nothing to lose but our blue checks!