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Last year Elon Musk had a smart idea: he’d buy Twitter for $44bn. In the six months since he closed that deal in October 2022, he’s had lots of smart ideas about how to improve it: ideas so smart, they’ve reduced the company’s valuation (by his own estimate) to $20bn. But the smart ideas just keep on coming, and the latest was announced last night.

“Starting April 15th, only verified accounts will be eligible to be in For You recommendations,” tweeted Musk. “The [sic] is the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over. It is otherwise a hopeless losing battle. Voting in polls will require verification for same reason.”

‘For You’ is Twitter’s recently-launched personalised stream of tweets for each user, including tweets from accounts they don’t follow. It’s set as their default home-feed, although they can switch to a ‘Following’ feed of just people they follow.

From 15 April, the ‘For You’ feed will thus only include tweets from verified accounts. Important context: two weeks before that, all ‘legacy’ verified accounts – people and organisations that got their blue ticks in the pre-Musk era of Twitter – will be stripped of their verified status.

So, when the ‘For You’ change happens two weeks later, the only way to have your tweets appear in that feed will be to pay $8 a month for a Twitter Blue subscription if you’re an individual, or (reportedly) $1k a month if you’re a business. The only thing ‘verified’ about Twitter Blue is the payment.

This change thus is much less about tackling advanced AI bot swarms, and much more about prodding people to pay for Twitter Blue. The tier reportedly had around 180,000 subscribers in the US in early February: less than 0.2% of Twitter’s monthly active users there.

The original pitch for Twitter Blue was about carrots: giving extra features to people who paid. Now it’s seemingly more about sticks: removing features (and reach) from people who don’t pay. Good news for crypto-scam promoters and far-right foghorns, but what about everybody else?

It’s not brilliant news for musicians who aren’t already superstars: building a following organically on Twitter may be even harder once the change kicks in. But in truth, this may simply be a spur to devote more energy to other social-media platforms. Ultimately, the change may harm Twitter – by reducing its relevance – more than it harms artists.

The smart advice for artists has always been to avoid being beholden to a single platform. See the big social services as funnels towards your own controlled properties – websites, mailing lists, even Discord servers – and work to migrate fans across.

Elon Musk’s latest smart idea is just a timely reminder for artists to take that advice, particularly for his platform. The new change was announced as a unilateral decision, despite Musk’s promise (in an 11.17pm tweet on 18 December 2022) that “going forward, there will be a vote for major policy changes”.

Perhaps the results of a poll he posted three minutes later that day – “Should I step down as head of Twitter?”, with 57.5% of respondents voting Yes – have put him off polling major policy changes. Or maybe he’ll hold a vote on the ‘For You’ changes once he’s stripped non-paying users of their voting rights.

Democracy in action! But our suspicion is that these changes – not to mention the reported stalling of Twitter licensing talks with music rightsholders – may only serve to reduce the platform’s relevance for music and musicians.

Music Ally archive: Twitter

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