If you’re an active member of the Black Twitter community, chances are you’ve heard some variation of the phrase, “How is Twitter free?!” after something super dramatic and entertaining happens, rivaling the best television show during sweeps.
Well, bitch, we’re about to find out how free it’s not. Along with introducing a community feature (similar to Facebook Groups), Twitter announced a paid content subscription feature on Thursday, during their Virtual Analyst Day.
The payment feature, called Super Follows, will allow Twitter users to charge followers and give them access to extra content. That could be bonus tweets, access to a community group, subscription to a newsletter, or a badge indicating your support. In a mockup screenshot, Twitter showed an example where a user charges $4.99 per month to receive a series of perks. Twitter sees it as a way to let creators and publishers get paid directly by their fans.
Direct payment tools have become increasingly important for creators in particular in recent years. Patreon has been hugely successful, and other platforms including Facebook, YouTube, and even GitHub have all launched direct creator payment features. Twitter will presumably take a cut — the company has been hinting at subscriptions features that would offer it a new source of revenue — though it doesn’t appear to have said yet what that fee will be.
Folks became so upset about the news, #RIPTwitter instantly began to trend, which is pretty damn meta.
Naturally, I have questions about the Super Follows feature. Will it be deemed essentially useless since people will just take screenshots and put it all over Twitter, or will that be disabled? Will people who create those epic Twitter story threads (y’all know the impact; at least one of them became a whole movie) start exclusively using the pay-per-view feature?
I can’t personally think of anyone who I’d pay to access their tweets, especially since there are so many other avenues I can engage with them for free. That was actually the early allure of Twitter—you could directly communicate with folks you normally wouldn’t have access to, like celebrities. It was an equal-level playing field—well, until we established a social hierarchy such as number of followers (thus, bigger platform), blue check marks (though they were initially intended to verify an important person’s identity to avoid cyber identity theft) monetizing content, etc. In the vein of social currency and companies’ ability to capitalize from it, Twitter has never really been “free” anyway. I can see yet another type of hierarchy happening with this type of thing and my knee-jerk reaction is to reject it. Then again, who knows what will happen if this becomes the norm and users are left no choice but to assimilate?
On the flip-side, with independent creators using Twitter to distribute and promote their content, they’re also susceptible to their content being pilfered or used by other platforms for profit without any credit or compensation (you know, since the debate between copyright infringement and fair use becomes complicated as hell as soon as you hit the “tweet” button). This change could be very beneficial, to that end. I guess we’ll see how it goes!
That said, I want to pose the question to you, readers of The Root: Is there one person (or list of people) you would consider subscribing to on a paid plan so that you can access their exclusive tweets?