Elon Musk’s Twitter is working on a “high” risk paid video feature


Elon Musk’s Twitter is pushing ahead with plans to charge for content, including videos, on social media.

Twitter is working on a feature that lets people post videos and charge users to watch them, with the company taking a cut of the revenue, according to an internal email obtained by The Washington Post. The company appears to be aiming to rush the feature, referred to as Paywalled Video, with a target of one to two weeks before launch.

But the team has “identified the risk as high,” according to the email, which was sent by an employee of Twitter’s “Product Trust” team. The email cites “risks related to copyrighted content, creator/user trust issues and legal compliance” and says the feature will undergo a brief internal review of these issues before moving forward.

Whether the feature was in development before Musk took over is unclear, and Twitter declined to comment Thursday. But the accelerated timeline gives the company’s internal assessment team just three days to provide feedback on potential risks.

The timeline could signal Musk’s intention to move far faster in building and launching new features than Twitter has in the past — even if that means taking on greater risks of abuse or liability. While Twitter makes most of its money from advertising, Musk has said he wants to charge users, including for the blue verification badge.

Musk bought the company for $44 billion last week, taking on billions in debt and promising co-investors a hefty return — despite some analysts valuing the company at about half its price. Upon taking control, Musk immediately fired the management team, installed himself as “Chief Twit,” brought in trusted business partners, and has implemented a series of major changes, often via his own Twitter account.

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The paid video feature will mark a significant shift for the platform, which is best known as a place for users to publicly share short thoughts, memes and links. Twitter recently branched out into live audio with a feature called Spaces and has begun experimenting with premium features, such as a “tip jar” for content creators and a “Super Follow” option that allows popular tweeters to charge a subscription fee for bonus content .

The video shift could also push Twitter, which is unusual among major social networks in allowing nudity and consensual pornography, into competition with sites that specialize in adult content.

According to the internal email describing the new video feature, which has yet to be announced, “When a creator composes a tweet with a video, the creator can activate the paywall when a video is added to the tweet.” They can then choose from a preset list of prices, such as $1, $2, $5 or $10.

Mock-ups of the feature seen by The Post show a tweet with four images. Three are immediately visible, while the fourth is hidden, with a lock icon and the message “see for $1.” Paying that amount would unlock the video, with the creator receiving money via Stripe while Twitter takes an unspecified amount.

Users who did not pay would not be able to view the video, but could like or retweet the tweet.

The email does not specify what types of videos creators can post, although it raises concerns that users could post copyrighted content or use the feature to trick others. A Twitter employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans, said it seemed like a feature that would likely be used at least in part for adult content.

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Although Twitter is no longer public, it is on the hook for about $1 billion in annual interest payments on the debt Musk incurred when he bought the company. He has also said he plans to charge $8 a month for users to keep the blue badge that signals the company has verified them as who they say they are, while giving them extra features like priority in search results.

Some of the money could be used to pay content creators like YouTube, Facebook and TikTok, Musk said Tuesday on Twitter.

He previously showed support for content creators on Twitter and engaged with some when he tried to argue that users should become paid subscribers in exchange for a verification badge and other features.

“This will also give Twitter a revenue stream to reward content creators,” he wrote in a tweet.

“Creators have to make a living!” he added in response to an enthusiastic tweet from a Tesla influencer, who hailed the payment idea as a way to spur further content creation.

Twitter will charge $8 a month for verification. What you need to know.

Twitter estimates that about 13 percent of its content is NSFW, or “not safe for work,” according to Reuters, which included the figure in a story last month about how Twitter was losing its most active users. NSFW content, along with cryptocurrency content, were the fastest-growing areas on English-speaking Twitter, according to an internal presentation seen by The Post and first reported by Reuters.

Most major advertisers avoid NSFW content and are hesitant to advertise on platforms that have a reputation for containing pornography. The marketing industry has had conversations about the problem with Twitter over the years, according to an executive at one of the biggest advertising agencies who spoke on condition of anonymity. Rivals such as Facebook and TikTok do not allow pornographic content.

In August, the Verge reported that Twitter had developed and then scrapped plans for a subscription service explicitly focused on adult content, reminiscent of the lucrative adult platform OnlyFans. But the project went through an intensive review by an internal “Red Team” tasked with evaluating all possible risks, and was ultimately derailed by concerns that Twitter would be unable to ensure that it was not monetizing child pornography or sexual abuse.

Musk has been in New York this week, among other things to meet advertisers. Last week, he posted a note on his Twitter account promising advertisers that the site would not become a “free-for-all hell.”

Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.

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