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Elon Musk’s Twitter is working on paid-video feature with ‘high’ risk

The tool would let video creators charge users for access. The team working on it flagged big potential pitfalls.

Elon Musk, shown at a news conference in February, is pushing Twitter to come up with new ways of making money. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

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

Twitter is working on a feature that would let people post videos and charge users to view them, with the company taking a cut of the proceeds, according to an internal email obtained by The Washington Post. The company appears to be aiming to rush out 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 on 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 on those 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 review teams just three days to provide feedback on the potential risks.

The timeline could signal Musk’s intent to move far more quickly 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 check mark of verification.

After months of legal disputes, Elon Musk closed his deal to buy Twitter and exerted control of the social media company, firing key executives on Oct. 27. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

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

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The paid video feature would 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 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 lets popular tweeters charge a subscription fee for bonus content.

The video shift could also push Twitter, which is unusual among major social networks for 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 not yet been announced, “When a creator composes a tweet with a video, the creator can enable the paywall once a video has been 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 viewed by The Post show a tweet with four images. Three are immediately viewable, while the fourth is obscured, with a lock icon and the message “view for $1.” Paying that amount would unlock the video, with the creator receiving money via Stripe while Twitter takes an unspecified amount.

Users who haven’t paid would not be able to see the video but could like or retweet the tweet.

The email doesn’t specify what types of videos creators might post, though it does raise the concern that users might post copyrighted content or use the feature to scam others. One Twitter employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans, said it seemed like a feature that would probably be used at least partly for adult content.

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Though Twitter is no longer public, it is on the hook for around $1 billion in annual interest payments on the debt Musk accrued when buying the company. He has also said he plans on charging $8 a month for users to keep their blue check mark that signals the company has verified them as who they say they are, while giving them added features like priority in search results.

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

He earlier showed support for content creators on Twitter and engaged with some as he sought to make his case 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 one tweet.

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

Twitter to 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 of English-speaking Twitter, according to an internal presentation viewed by The Post and first reported by Reuters.

Most big advertisers shun NSFW content and are hesitant to advertise on platforms that have a reputation for containing pornography. The marketing industry has had conversations about the issue with Twitter over the years, according to an executive at one of the largest advertising agencies who spoke on the 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 shelved 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 the possible risks and was ultimately derailed by concern that Twitter would be unable to ensure that it wasn’t monetizing child pornography or sexual abuse.

Musk has been in New York this week, partly to meet with advertisers. Last week, he posted a note on his Twitter account promising advertisers the site wouldn’t become a “free-for-all hellscape.”

Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.

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