Elon Musk wants to make Twitter like an airline

Making content to sell ads against? That’ll cost you

Elon Musk wants to make Twitter like an airline

Edited by Sam Thielman

TWITTER WAS DOWN last week for reasons that are hard to attribute to anything but incompetence. Since purchasing the company, billionaire Elon Musk has outed himself as a lightless void of understanding when it comes to the basics of the business—a real problem for someone in charge of the intricate combination of programming and politics that make Twitter possible. His new apparent plan: Make using the platform more like air travel, an industry that is definitely not synonymous with price-gouging.

Musk has fired loads of the company’s staff. He has spent his ostensible workdays kissing up to bizarre Trump trolls. He has prioritized bringing vitriolic antisemites and racists back to the platform, while banning journalists that his buddy, far-right propagandist Andy Ngo, deemed too “antifa” (or critical of him). He has remained bent on removing blue checkmarks from verified public figures’ accounts (though he doesn’t seem to be able to figure out how to do this) and giving “anti-woke” writers an IV drip of “liberals are bad” content from Twitter’s internal communications. He allegedly hasn’t bothered to pay the company’s office rent. And now, amid reports that his plans to sell the world on monthly subscriptions to Twitter aren’t going so well, he is peeling back the user experience layer by layer in hopes of forcing more users to reach into their wallets.

Just recently, Musk’s Twitter limited API access and announced plans to charge for it, thwarting many third-party applications. Apparently TweetDeck, which I use often for my work, is on the chopping block soon. Users who don’t pay for the service have been placed under new limits on everything from posts per day to direct messages.

There is no reason to believe there will be an endpoint to Musk’s quest. He is clearly still coping with the overpriced deal he agreed to, tried to back out of, but was eventually forced to proceed with. Musk has apparently decided his pathway to saving face is doing what airlines have done in the last decade: turning what were once assumed conveniences into upcharges. He is channeling the same spirit that made seats get smaller, carry-on bags cost extra, and measly packs of pretzels sell for three dollars.

The difference between Musk and an airline is that an airline is still offering the customer a basic service. For an agreed price, a person can get from one place to another in a short amount of time. The traveler is the customer and, up-charges be damned, they get something tangible out of it. But the opposite is true of Twitter, or any social media platform for that matter.

Twitter’s user base generates the content that draws any interest at all to the platform, on which advertisements are sold with the promise of reaching at least some of those eyeballs seeking that content. That is how social media companies make money. The reason many alternative social media platforms don’t take off is because, more often than not, the content on them sucks. It’s why platforms like Twitch and Rumble ink financial deals with some content creators: They know they need them to be relevant.

What Twitter is hoping to do is charge its users for the privilege of being sold to advertisers, not by offering new and exciting features but by taking away the ones they already use for free.

Some people who are addicted to Twitter will inevitably bend the knee and pay to maintain whatever clout they’ve accumulated with the platform. But for the bulk of users, what all this will ultimately mean is that they post on Twitter less. A platform without good content is not a fun platform to use, and the relevance of Twitter will suffer. Maybe the platform will never die entirely, but it’s entirely plausible that Twitter ends up on the shelf next to Facebook and Snapchat, among social media platforms past their prime.


Here Comes the Ron DeSantis Whitewashing

In the last two weeks, the national press has offered an array of rationalizations for preferring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former President Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican primary elections. Some have treated right-wing media’s own hysterical feedback loop, which has helped to shape DeSantis’ governance, as evidence of DeSantis’s genius, which tells me that even those pundits who like to think of themselves as people who “get it” have learned very little in the last decade.

The Paper of Record published the most flagrant example. In The New York Times last week, columnist Pamela Paul argued that Democrats should not discount DeSantis’ prospects as a national political contender, offering a form of apologia for DeSantis’ hateful obsessions in the process. Paul lavishes praise on the Florida governor (“DeSantis is demonstrably intelligent and industrious”), chides those who note his clear prejudices for being impractical (“assuming a stance of moral superiority will do us no good”), shrugs off DeSantis’ attempts to assault free speech in education as it pertains to racial and LGBTQ+ subjects (“it’s important to recognize that aspects of it appeal to Floridians tired of racial and ethnic divisiveness”), and ultimately argues that because a lot of Republican base voters take partisan ragebait topics seriously, so should Democrats.

At the most basic level of her argument, I think Paul is correct that writing off DeSantis this early would be foolish, but she argues this into the air, debating with liberals that only really exist in her own imagination. Eric Levitz observed in New York magazine: “Paul does not quote a single liberal writer or politician making the claim that DeSantis could not possibly defeat Joe Biden in 2024.”

The rest of her column is an unpaid campaign ad.

This is the laziest, most irritating position in contemporary political discourse: that the “culture war” drivel on which the modern Republican Party runs might be heinous, but because the propaganda succeeds in making people angry, their opponents must act on it.

The premise of these “culture war” conversations has been corrupt for the decades it has consumed portions of the American political debate. Adam Johnson, a writer and co-host of the podcast Citations Needed, summarized those flaws in this thread:

The Republican Party remains lashed to the mast when it comes to these crusades against marginalized communities, despite historic underperformance in the 2022 midterms. The plan, apparently, is to entertain its base with a revolving cast of scapegoats rather than debate the merits of their unpopular agenda items.

No serious person should feel obligated to acknowledge the strengths of the Westboro Baptist Church, even if we knew some people supported its hateful message of “God hates fags.” In the same way, there is no reason to give points to “culture war” hatemongers just because they can present the Westboro message with better production values and fewer slurs.

What did I just watch