Elon Musk Wants to Banish Bots. Oh, but X Users Have to Foot the Bill

X owner Elon Musk has contrived a new way to combat automated spam accounts on the platform: make users pay for it. On Tuesday, the site formerly known as Twitter announced it was beginning to test a program requiring new, unverified accounts in New Zealand and the Philippines to pay a $1 annual fee in order to “post content, like posts, reply, repost and quote other accounts’ posts, [and] bookmark posts.”

The “Not a Bot” program test will not affect existing users, and the company insisted that the new plan “is not a profit driver,” as users who only wish to look at content will still be able to do so at no cost. “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 official X support account wrote. “And so far, subscription options have proven to be the main solution that works at scale.” (Glaringly absent from the announcement were details on if or when the Not a Bot program might be tested or enforced in larger markets, such as the US and Europe.)

The move appears to be the first step toward Musk’s stated goal of transforming X into a subscriber-only platform. He announced the paywall plan last month during a live streamed conversation with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that X is “moving to having a small monthly payment” in order to combat “vast armies of bots.” The desire to fight such accounts has perhaps been the only consistent theme throughout Musk’s misadventure in the social media industry: After agreeing to buy the company in April of last year, Musk said one of his main reasons for doing so was to eradicate bots on the platform. He later attempted to shirk the deal after accusing the company of misleading him about the number of bots the service harbored; however, a Delaware judge ultimately ordered him to complete the $44 billion purchase in October of last year to avoid going to trial.

Nearly a year has passed since the acquisition was finalized, but Musk still has yet to cure X of its bot scourge, despite reportedly claiming in May that his team had “eliminated at least 90% of scams” on the platform. In fact, research published by the Queensland University of Technology last month suggests the problem is worse than ever. One might come to the same conclusion simply by logging on to X, as the platform is rife with spam accounts hawking T-shirts, pornography, and airline or crypto scams.

The testing of the Not a Bot program is just the latest radical measure Musk has taken to reshape the platform to his liking. In addition to ushering in a massive rebrand that dropped the iconic Twitter name and logo, the billionaire has also removed headlines from links to articles shared on the platform; throttled the number of daily posts that nonpaying users can see; and replaced the old complimentary verification system with one that allows anyone to buy a verified badge for a starting fee of $8 a month, thereby defeating the original intent behind verification.

None of these changes have spelled success for the company. A new Similarweb report on X’s site traffic in September found it was down 14% year over year globally. In the US, traffic was down 19% for the site and 17.8% year over year on iOS and Android. This data contradicts X chief executive Linda Yaccarino’s claim that the platform saw record-high usage rates this summer. But “on the plus side,” Similarweb noted in its Tuesday report, “traffic to Elon Musk’s profile and posts was up 96% year over year in September.”

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