Why X (fka Twitter) Paying Popular Users in Nigeria Might Change The Platform’s Experience

The good old case of a blessing (in this case, potential curse) in disguise

Over the past few days, the biggest topic on social media has been the remunerations given to its popular users. For those who’ve followed the conversation, it’s been considered as far back as February, continuing a streak of huge decisions that’s been undertaken by Elon Musk ever since assuming the position from Jack Dorsey as the outright C.E.O of the social media company. The Nigerian community on Twitter—or X, as it’s now called—reacted to the updates expectedly, with excitement but also humour, and a larger number of people wanted to know how they could benefit from the new order of things. However, this new action is set to change Twitter even further, at least over here in Nigeria. 

Elon’s premise for this action is fairly simple; popular users of the platform get paid a percent of ads shared on their posts. There’s however a catch: the user must be a verified user, either through a legacy blue check or paying monthly for Twitter Blue, another of his controversial changes as Twitter CEO. Also, to qualify for this ad-revenue sharing program, the user must have 5 million impressions in each of the last three months, and to claim their payment, have a Stripe account linked to their Twitter account. 

Since Tuesday, a swathe of content creators across Nigeria has shared their earnings from the programs, reasonably excited. That lyric from pop figure Shallipopi—“I mount Elon Musk till thy kingdom come”—was shared widely, its revelry attaining new context. However, this move isn’t quite unprecedented—not really. YouTube has been paying creators from ad revenue for a long time, at exactly 55 percent for regular videos and 45 percent for YouTube Shorts. Why Twitter’s spurs so much conversation though, is because it represents what YouTube and no other social media platform globally does—a largely democratic space to share views and organise movements, be they political, ideological, or cultural. 

In recent times, social media’s biggest query has been about its level of democratisation. Although Dorsey maintained a liberal stance for much of his Twitter leadership, during the late periods he introduced certain barriers which worked against powerful personalities, most notably former American president Donald Trump. In Nigeria, former president Muhammdu Buhari had his Twitter account suspended for allegedly threatening genocide, and Twitter was an important part of the EndSARS protests. This was one of the cornerstones of Elon’s idealism for the platform; that never again would anyone’s thoughts be sanctioned, as long as they don’t pose a threat to a person or a group. On the other hand, Mark Zukerberg has scored a bad rep for his methods of aggressive data collection and, more immediate to users, policing across his Meta platforms. 

Facebook, which is the most popular and democratic of his platforms, has undergone great change from what it used to be in times past. Lately, it doesn’t take much for an account on Facebook to be locked, with the typical excuse of regulating bot accounts or scammers who seek to prey on unsuspecting individuals. Given the negative stereotypes surrounding Nigeria online, a Nigerian surely knows a lot about Zuckerberg’s sanctions. Thus, the platform has lost the vibrance it once had, and with a comparatively lower number of influential persons on the platform, it simply doesn’t have the conversational edge of Twitter. There’s that popular joke—that things happen a few days before on Twitter before it gets to Facebook users. A tad harsh, but arguably true. 

Platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok are mostly visually-driven, and as a result are very entertaining but barely move important conversations. A lot more people turn to Twitter for information, especially those with a pressing socio-political significance. This was evident in 2020, as End SARS and Black Lives Matter became historical events, and for the most part was spurred and organised through information on Twitter. 

Laying these out only serves to highlight how important Twitter is to contemporary society. Zuckerberg has tried to present a valid competition through Threads but it’s unlikely that platform would ever reach the significance of its older, and much more accessible competition. That’s why Elon Musk’s constant tinkering with the practices of Twitter—sorry, X; I tend to forget—has the sad feeling of watching someone familiar lose the qualities that once held you spellbound. 

I’m all for paying creators, but knowing Nigerians—it’s expected we would try to find loopholes in the system. Before now, a lot of people were known to tweet obviously controversial stuff in order to trend. As someone who primarily resides on Music Twitter, it’s commonplace to see tweets like “One day we will say the truth about Rema”, an obvious spur towards eliciting different opinions, because what is the truth, if not toxicity disguising behind a popular account? It’s bad enough that such conversations are driven by little to zero nuance, and it’s even worse that these artists occupy those spaces, almost helpless as they’re dragged into the sphere of public opinion. Now, they have financial motivation for being controversial. 

Even generally, being purposely obnoxious could be the norm, especially on platform where discussions range from inane gender wars to political discuss, all of which tends to have real life implications since many people internalise these hot takes. This isn’t to say that Twitter would immediately become toxic and less of a conversation-starter. There’s rather the likelihood that its conversations would become less influenced by true motivations, while of course, those who have a large following would always be at the forefront of Elon Musk’s revolutionary business decisions. Basically, expect a lot of fillers as time goes on; those songs that have no relevance to the album’s vision but have a conversational quality or are merely included to make up the numbers. 

There’s also the fact that Twitter influencers are privy to groups on WhatsApp and Telegram or elsewhere, where discussions are had to intentionally trend a topic. That manipulation has been a lesser-discussed aspect of our social media reality; that many subjects on the trends list aren’t indicative of what’s happening around the world, but are rather hand-chosen, which isn’t very different from the streaming farms conversation surrounding the Nigerian music industry. 

It wouldn’t recognise the nuances to say that there are no positives behind this new dispensation, however. We’re going to see more people make more money, especially crucial in a country like Nigeria facing massive economic downturn, and more than ever people are turning to digital media, as much for business prospects as for information. And expectedly, with the greater number of competition, a lot of people would have to step up their game, though we’re hoping it would be less of using controversial drivers and rather promoting beautiful art, factual information and analytical content.