Elon Musk’s proposal to ask businesses and government bodies to start paying for using Twitter could be in direct conflict with his utopian idea to allow free speech on the platform, according to experts. Paying customers, including companies and governments, may ask for greater control in return for their money.

Musk gave a glimpse of what could be a possible new revenue line for Twitter, going forward, on Wednesday, in a series of tweets. The billionaire businessman wants to charge businesses and government bodies using the platform.

This comes after Twitter’s board agreed to the takeover of the company by Musk at $44 billion last month.

“Ultimately, the downfall of the Freemasons was giving away their stonecutting services for nothing…,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

He added: “Twitter will always be free for casual users, but maybe a slight cost for commercial/government users.”

Experts, however, believe that to achieve a successful paid model for its services, the microblogging site would need to polish the product first, which might also be in conflict with Musk’s free speech ideas.

 Sanchit Vir Gogia, Chief Analyst and CEO, Greyhound Research, told BusinessLine: “This move was very much expected, but when you plan to charge it needs to be a better product. Also, it’s a tricky road to walk on for Twitter if they want to have free speech.”

“If they plan to make governments pay, they would require Twitter to provide full access to the platform, which means letting them promote their select narrative and agenda that they stand for. Overall, for paid services to work for both enterprises and government bodies, Twitter will need to work on polishing the product, marketing services, add sophisticated tools and improve quality. Twitter would also need to let companies link Twitter handles with websites.”

According to Gogia, in its present form, Twitter has a long way to go in terms of refining its products, given that social-media peers such as Facebook and Google have institutionalised advertising within their business models, which is not the case for Twitter yet.

Advertising, a better model

“Musk clearly sees Twitter differently with bigger monetising possibilities than what the current management had envisaged. His recent tweet about his intent to have Twitter levy a usage fee for commercial and government users, while keeping it free to casual users, is not surprising,” Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Investor, told BusinessLine.

He added: “However, it will be interesting to see how users react. Remember that some of the world’s largest social-media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok – all with a significantly larger user base than Twitter, are free and monetise largely, mainly through advertisers.”

If Twitter goes ahead, it will set the platform free from its dependence on advertisers — which is not a bad thing — and could well become its USP. However, will the revenue it secures from commercial and government users be good enough to keep it viable or will many of them migrate to other free platforms that could offer them greater reach? This remains to be seen, said Mathias.