Meta and Twitter have recently introduced subscription services, with Meta launching Meta Verified at a cost of $12 on the web and $15 on iOS and Android, while Twitter launched Twitter Blue. The companies are pursuing these subscriptions as advertising revenues decline, with over 90% of their income streams coming from advertising. The new subscription services risk making social media’s benefits of free speech, global reach, and visibility the preserve of a few individuals, which is contrary to the original goal of creating digital town squares.
Meta has said that there will be no changes to accounts already verified by the blue checkmark, but the service is primarily targeting content creators looking to grow their followings. The introduction of subscriptions is happening when social media platforms are being squeezed of digital ad revenue, with Facebook and Twitter suffering a 40% drop in revenue year-over-year. The companies are introducing paid-for services when ad revenues are in decline, and as a result, they are risking making social media’s great benefits of free speech, global reach, and visibility available only to those who are willing to pay.
The verification feature is essential for companies like Facebook and Twitter, which have had problems dealing with misinformation and fake accounts. While the subscription model is seen as a way of combating these issues, it risks alienating legitimate users who cannot afford to pay, particularly in the midst of an inflation crisis. The cost of figuring out the verification problem should be carried by the platforms themselves, given the basic function it is meant to provide to users. Charging for it illustrates a misunderstanding of the responsibilities of the platforms.
Twitter Blue has had little uptake, with only 0.2% of Twitter users in the US having signed up for it by the end of January. Meta may face the same tepid response as Twitter Blue, and the new subscription services may serve only the financial needs of the companies. In conclusion, while the subscription model may be a necessary measure to shore up the declining ad revenues of social media platforms, it risks making the benefits of social media the preserve of the few, which is a significant departure from the original ethos of creating digital town squares.