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Elon Musk says X may charge all users a ‘small monthly payment’

The businessman argues that the fee is aimed at combating the army of bots on the social network

Luis Pablo Beauregard
Elon Musk, upon his arrival at the U.S. Capitol, last Wednesday.
Elon Musk, upon his arrival at the U.S. Capitol, last Wednesday.SHAWN THEW (EFE)

Elon Musk, the owner of the social network X, formerly Twitter, is considering charging a “small monthly payment” to all users of the platform. This option is one of many possible plans floated by the businessman, who bought the tech company in October 2022. Since then, the tycoon has tried various strategies to make the service profitable, including an $8-monthly subscription for premium access. Musk argued that his decision to charge users a fee is aimed at combatting the “vast army of bots” on the platform. Musk presented the idea on Monday during a long-distance conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on a business trip to California. During the talk, the Israeli leader called on the Tesla founder to curb the spread of anti-Semitism on the platform, which has risen sharply since Musk took over the company.

According to Musk, between 100 and 200 million posts are shared on the platform every day. “Some of those are going to be bad,” said the businessman, who told Netanyahu that X’s policy is not to promote or amplify hate speech. During the conversation, Musk said that X now has about 550 million “monthly users,” but did not explain how many of these were authentic or bots. In May 2022, Twitter said it had about 229 million daily active accounts.

Musk’s takeover of the social network has meant that many users who had previously been sanctioned or suspended have been able to return to the platform. Some of these users have even opted for a monthly subscription. According to Mashable, around 650,000 users had signed up for the premium service as of April. Last fall, Musk said that his goal was to protect the “common digital town square” that the platform represented and to ensure freedom of expression.

Netanyahu, who is himself a symbol for the American right, invited Musk to find a balance between allowing freedom of speech and stopping the rise of anti-Semitic messages on X. “I encourage you and urge you to find the balance. It’s a tough one,” said the prime minister, who is on a working tour focused on the San Francisco Bay, the birthplace of many tech companies and businesses focused on artificial intelligence.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that specializes in civil rights, has accused Musk of giving a megaphone to neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements. The director of the group, Jonathan Greenblatt, argues that Musk has widened the reach of these extremist movements by interacting with their members from his X account, which has 157 million followers. Musk, for his part, has blamed the League for the platform’s decline in advertising and accused the group of trying to “kill” his social network. The company has 60% fewer advertisers since Musk bought Twitter.

In the talk, Netanyahu warned about the need to guide artificial intelligence to adopt a code of ethics and for conduct that can stop the spread of hate speech. He argued that surveillance organizations will be needed to denounce hate speech from individuals and states.

Both Musk and Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of X, have launched a campaign to address accusations that the platform tolerates anti-Semitic messages. The conversation with Netanyahu can be seen as part of these efforts.

Last Sunday, however, Musk sparked more controversy by posting on X that the foundation of George Soros, a 93-year-old Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist, “appears to want nothing less than the destruction of western civilization.” In his post, Musk criticized the philanthropic organization, which has donated billions of dollars to charity and is often targeted by the far right. Many of these attacks are anti-Semitic, as Soros is Jewish.

Netanyahu’s arrival in California sparked demonstrations at the Tesla factory in Fremont. Dozens of people came to protest against the reform that Israel’s ultra-conservative government intends to carry out to weaken the Supreme Court. From California, the prime minister will travel to New York, where on Wednesday he will take part in the General Assembly of the United Nations. He is also expected to meet briefly with U.S. President Joe Biden.

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