X Wants To Be Bot-Free. Asking Users To Pay For It Will Only Make Matters Worse


X (née Twitter) may not remain free to use much longer. Former CEO Elon Musk hinted last week that users might have to pay a modest fee to use the microblogging platform. As per the billionaire owner, this would help X fight bots or fake accounts. Will X really be a paywalled app? We aren’t sure yet. Will X be free of bots if all users start paying? The answer to that would be an emphatic NO.

If you think about it, Musk’s idea might sound logical at first glance. Automated programs, known as bots, are designed to simulate a genuine user by creating fraudulent accounts on online platforms. They employ various techniques, such as utilising captcha farms where real individuals solve captchas on their behalf or being programmed to successfully bypass captcha challenges. Now, as per Musk, if users are asked to pay to use X in the first place, the platform can easily stop bot activity from the get-go, as programs would understandably not pay for access.

However, hoping that asking users to pay for access would eliminate fake accounts entirely is futile. 

Blue Tick Troubles

Let’s dial the clocks back to April this year, when Musk made X’s (then called Twitter) blue-tick verification badges a paid-for feature. A signature offering, Twitter awarded blue ticks to users for free, after a round of checks which involved users submitting their official government ID, publication URLs, and a few other details. This not only made blue ticks much coveted but also gave the overall idea that a user with a blue tick beside his name must be genuine.

Before Musk’s takeover, Twitter Blue was a paid-for service that had nothing to do with the actual verification ticks. Twitter Blue offered users handy features such as the ability to undo tweets, bookmark tweets, customise colour themes, and more. 

After Musk acquired Twitter in a hostile $44-billion takeover, he made the verified badges a part of the Twitter Blue service, making it so that anyone who pays $7.99 per month (between Rs 650 to Rs 900 in India), will get a verified blue tick. 

Now, this led to an onslaught of strange accounts carrying the blue tick. From fake LeBron James and George W. Bush to even Jesus Christ, it quickly became clear that you simply cannot trust any account on Twitter, even if it carries verified ticks. It even led to a brief #BlockTheBlue campaign, where ‘unverified’ users started blocking so-called ‘verified’ users.

While the move to monetise blue ticks was meant to battle fake accounts, it only led to even more misinformation on the platform, as Twitter gave away blue ticks to anyone who paid. Media reports highlighted several cases, such as pro-Russian accounts spreading misinformation and anti-US propaganda, or even becoming a barrier to non-paying climate scientists who presented their findings on Twitter. 

Getting Users To Pay Isn’t The Solution

Removing the blue tick badges wasn’t the only big change Musk administered. In March 2023, Twitter stopped offering non-paying users two-factor authentication (2FA), which is a vital need in today’s age, when cyberattacks and cybersecurity are a user’s digital rights. 

Making basic digital rights such as 2FA a paid-for feature came as a shock, and now Twitter users will have to cope with the possibility of a usage fee. Users should note that Musk has only hinted at making Twitter a paid platform during a livestream chat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There has been no official confirmation yet.

However, given Musk’s track record of myriad eccentricities, it could very well be possible that Twitter may soon be a paywalled platform. And Musk claims this would help the platform deal with bots. 

Given Twitter’s misinformation outbreak after its blue-tick removal, it’s hard to see how the paywall would help. If nothing else, users with malicious intent can simply pay to use the platform as they see fit. 

Additionally, Twitter is not only used by earning professionals. It is heavily used by students and researchers to field information. Introducing an entry fee might discourage users from signing up — especially since there are a dozen other social media platforms to explore — and it may lead to a downfall in Twitter’s user base. 

Of course, Twitter needs the user-base strength to invite more advertisers to the platform. So, a dip in users will not help the company in any way either. 

If Musk and Twitter are really serious about fighting bots, the company should ideally invest in better bot detection and mitigation solutions. Fervent monitoring of the site (traffic spikes, bounce rates, etc.) can also help a lot.

It’s understandable that after the Covid bubble burst, tech companies are struggling hard to cope with increasing costs and unnecessary operations. However, deciding to make users pay for it is not a favourable solution. 
Digital Disconnect is an ABP Live-exclusive column, where we explore the many admirable advancements the world of tech is seeing each day, and how they lead to a certain disconnect among users. Is the modern world an easier place to live in, thanks to tech? Definitely. Does that mean we don’t long for things to go back to the good-ol’ days? Well, look out for our next column to find out.


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