SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

Musk’s X tests $1 fee for new users in the Philippines and New Zealand in bid to target spam

Oct 19, 2023, 6:00 AM

FILE - Elon Musk, who owns Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX, speaks at the Vivatech fair, June 16, 2023, i...

FILE - Elon Musk, who owns Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX, speaks at the Vivatech fair, June 16, 2023, in Paris. Elon Musk’s social media platform X has begun charging a $1 fee to new users in the Philippines and New Zealand. It's a test designed to cut down on the spam and fake accounts flourishing on the platform. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

(AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

LONDON (AP) — Elon Musk’s social media platform X has begun charging a $1 fee to new users in the Philippines and New Zealand, in a test designed to cut down on the spam and fake accounts flourishing on the site formerly known as Twitter.

The company said late Tuesday that it has started trying out the annual subscription method for new and unverified accounts. The program, dubbed Not a Bot, won’t apply to existing users.

It’s not clear why it only applies to New Zealand and the Philippines or why those countries were chosen.

“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 X support account tweeted. “It is not a profit driver.”

Some experts said charging a fee might not do much to stop fake accounts and could even amplify the problem.

If X decides to roll out the $1 fee worldwide, it could be “disastrous” for the platform, said Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the investigative collective Bellingcat who previously worked at Twitter.

“There is nothing to stop a scammer from spending $100 to buy a hundred new bot accounts. In fact, it may even make the platform more bot filled,” she said. “New users to the platform may not be inclined to pay $1 and give their credit card information to X.”

Since Musk bought the company a year ago, he has introduced a slew of changes such as renaming the platform and gutting its workforce — including its content moderation team.

Outside watchdog groups say the changes have allowed misinformation to thrive on the platform, a problem that exploded after the Israel-Hamas war erupted.

Musk previously turned to premium subscriptions as a tactic to boost the financially struggling platform’s revenue.

One of his first product moves was to shake up the site’s blue check verification system by launching a service granting checks to anyone willing to pay $8 a month. A flood of impostor accounts forced the service’s temporary suspension days after it launched.

Koltai noted that the $8 program hasn’t deterred bots or spam accounts. Researchers also point out that accounts subscribing to the blue-check service can get paid if their posts go viral, creating a financial incentive to post whatever gets the most reaction.

In return for their $1, new subscribers will get access to basic functions like posting content, liking or bookmarking posts, and reposting, quoting or replying to posts from other accounts.

The platform said new users who don’t subscribe will only be able to read posts, watch videos and follow other accounts.

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Musk’s X tests $1 fee for new users in the Philippines and New Zealand in bid to target spam