Twitter @paywall? Well then, let the twits quit

If you have an opinion, and its a valuable one, well then, go ahead, say it, tweet it, but pay for it while you are at it


Sushmita Bose

Published: Wed 9 Nov 2022, 8:13 PM

Last updated: Tue 22 Nov 2022, 11:45 AM

There was an earthquake late Tuesday night, the impact of which — reportedly, pretty strong — was felt in parts of New Delhi (among other places). I got a few WhatsApp notifications, so I obviously Googled, lying in bed. Twitter seemed to be first off the bat, and as I scrolled down various feeds of various people located strategically across the Indian capital, what emerged seemed somewhat dystopian. Users claimed they were watching their walls quiver and feeling their beds rattle, but instead of trying to get out of their residences or alerting others, they were tweeting. “There, my house just went down like a ton of bricks”, accompanied by a video, could very well have been a much-hearted (and retweeted) post — right before the tweeter collapsed under the rubble.

It’s a given that the silly season never ends on social media, so why do I feel Twitter feeds are (mostly) such a travesty?

Simple. Of all the social media platforms, Twitter is supposed to be the one with maximum heft. It wasn’t supposed to be attention-seeking, or attention deficient — like an Instagram or a TikTok or even a Facebook, which are way more facile and indulgent by nature. Twitter was supposed to inform, empower and be matter-of-fact. When we say social media has the power to topple heads of state or start a movement or crowdsource help during emergencies, we usually mean Twitter because it was considered an agency — not a virtual, sensationalistic social house as it’s fast turning into. The noxious trolling, the imagined warfare, the inane arguments, the bots taking the bottom cover off anything remotely sane — the list of transgressions that have overwhelmed the domain is endless.

It’s almost fitting that its new owner Elon Musk has had a similar character devolvement: from being an awe-inspiring disruptor-in-chief and visionary risk-taker, he’s now suddenly a despotic — and toxic — megalomaniac. His leadership is witnessing huge layoffs and (probably stoked) confusion about Twitter’s future policies. The biggest clickbait, however, has been “talks” of Musk’s alleged decision that he will convert Twitter into a paid product. And no, it’s not because he wants to make Twitter financially viable — he’s already the world’s richest person, remember? — but because he wants to set the format straight by sifting the chaff from the grain.

For the time being, we will have to put up with the righteous indignation that’s erupting everywhere and contend with ‘news’ that celebrity after celebrity is quitting Twitter because Musk is being such a tyrant. But, really, how does it matter in the real world that Whoopi Goldberg has “formally” exited the grand portals of tweets and is no longer part of Twitterati?

So, what will happen if Twitter goes behind a paywall? I’m guessing only those who believe in the credo of “putting your money where your mouth is” will flock to the platform to tweet. And believe me, despite rising income levels the world over, a great many human beings are going to have an ‘issue’ with dishing out moolah — even if it’s chump change — since the Internet has made us suckers for freebies.

If Twitter@paywall does indeed become a reality (given Musk’s propensity to flip flop, one never knows), I’m also guessing real news and useful information will not be casualties. Hare-brained opinions and comments might. On the face of it, it would be like: if you have an opinion, and it’s a valuable one, well then, go ahead, say it, tweet it, but pay for it while you’re at it. If you are going to be accountable for the money going out of your bank account, it’s likely you are going to measure your words (of course, there will be aberrations, but that’s another story).

In one of his stand-up routines, the inimitable Ricky Gervais had talked about the world getting worse, and him blaming the beginning of its demise on social media: “because… Twitter, that’s where this ridiculous notion bred… and became stable that it’s more important to be popular than right… [and that] my opinion is worth more than your .”

I still don’t know whether Musk is a visionary or a chimeric, but despite the dialectics, I do believe the of putting Twitter behind a paywall is a great one. Talk should never be cheap.

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