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This article was published on June 3, 2021

Twitter’s new ‘Blue’ service is yet another tax on minorities

Charging me extra to solve the non-stop harassment I face online is adding insult to injury

Twitter’s new ‘Blue’ service is yet another tax on minorities Image by: Unsplash/Alexander Shatov
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Twitter today launched its new Blue subscription service in Canada and Australia. As Neural’s Thomas Maucaulay reported earlier, users in the initial subscriber areas can now pay a small monthly fee to get a VIP social media experience.

The big sell here is that Blue subscribers will get access to an “undo tweet” ability, bookmark folders, “reader” mode, and “dedicated subscription customer support.”

None of that makes any sense. Wasn’t the algorithm supposed to solve the customer support crisis? If Twitter’s having such a problem serving people in a timely manner, why on Earth would anyone pay extra for poor customer service from an apparently overworked staff?

Let’s break this down piece by piece.

First up: The “undo tweet” ability. Social media companies often roll out new quality of life features on a limited basis, but this is among the few times I’ve seen an ubiquitously-useful feature slide behind a subscription gate.

This type of stuff rarely even happens in gaming anymore. If a gaming service wouldn’t let you press the “cancel” button on a menu unless you were a paying subscriber, it’d be universally panned.

Not to mention the subscription literally only buys you 30 extra seconds to make that decision. That’s right, per Twitter:

With Undo Tweet, you can set a customizable timer of up to 30 seconds to click ‘Undo’ before the Tweet, reply, or thread you’ve sent posts to your timeline.

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t see why this feature doesn’t just exist for everyone. Perhaps Twitter is priming the pumps for a DLC subscription add-on package that allows you edit your tweets if you pay an additional, additional fee.

Next: Subscribers get the ability to use folders in their bookmarks. Us unwashed non-Blues have the option to toss anything we like into a general folder called “Bookmarks.” Subscribers will be able to create subfolders within their bookmarks.

Basically, Twitter is charging people for a feature that Xerox developed for its Alto OS back in the early 1970s. It should make all of us sad that organization is a pay feature for any interactive product.

And then there’s “Reader” mode: 

Per Twitter:

We are making it easier for you to keep up with long threads on Twitter by turning them into easy-to-read text so you can read all the latest content seamlessly.

I’m sorry, is this a paid thread-unroll feature for Twitter? Is the company really charging us to view tweet threads? It seems to me that the people who would find the most value from this are those who struggle with the vanilla thread format. And that feels like an accessibility issue.

Putting accessibility options behind a paywall is a reprehensible practice. Twitter should rethink this feature for its Blue subscription service immediately. 

And that just leaves the dedicated customer support feature or, as it should be called: Twitter’s tax on minorities.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: Twitter doesn’t need whatever money this subscription will bring in. Here’s a quote from a CNBC article discussing the company’s most recent earnings call:

The company reported revenue of $1.04 billion for the quarter, which was up 28% from $808 million a year prior. Twitter also reported a profit of $68 million, contrasted with a loss of $8.4 million a year ago.

Twitter isn’t hurting for revenue. It doesn’t exist in a paradigm where it has to find new income streams. It’s doing what it does best: experimenting and collecting data.

There could be a perfectly reasonable, business-related, morally acceptable reason for Twitter Blue, but “why” it exists isn’t as important as “what” the consequences of its existence are.

Twitter already struggles to police its own platform, so spreading customer support agents even thinner seems like a poor way to solve that problem. Twitter’s business model isn’t based on selling a few big whales on its product, it’s a game of numbers. The more of us who think Twitter is a better “free” product than its competitors, the more money Twitter makes.

Furthermore:  I find it difficult to believe that Twitter doesn’t put its best effort forward across its entire customer base when it comes to ensuring each and every one of us has unfettered access to its service. We are the product, after all, and Twitter can only sell us if we’re logged in and consuming content.

That  means you’re not getting better customer service with Blue, you’re just paying to skip the line. So, for example, if I want to do something about the never-ending torrent of people who harass me for being queer, a journalist, or both, I’m better off paying.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a slap in my face or a tax on my queerness. It’s also a coddling snuggle for those who have no empathy for me. People who would dismiss my concerns with a petty “you don’t have to subscribe if you don’t want to,” with no regard for what this represents to me and people like me, can take solace. One of the biggest, most powerful companies in the world agrees with them when they tell me “it’s no big deal.”

The worst part: It distracts from the very problems minorities face online by giving those with the privilege to spend money on frivolous online subscriptions a safe space from which they can ignore the reality of social media for the rest of us.

Some of the same tech reporters, enthusiasts, and influencers who spend their time decrying the algorithm’s clumsiness will be among the service’s primary users. And they’ll suddenly find themselves pampered in a Twitter-verse where their humanity is valued more than mine.

This is a bad, harmful idea and I truly hope Twitter rethinks it sooner rather than later.

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