Social media networks have long been plagued with spam, scams, impersonation, and account hijacking. In recent news, both Twitter and Meta have unveiled new plans to combat these issues by passing the cost to users.
Twitter has made SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA) a premium feature, which will take effect on March 20th. Users will need to switch to an app-based authentication system, pay a monthly fee ranging from $8 to $11, or turn off the basic security feature. The move is part of Twitter’s effort to push people onto its subscription-based service, and also to reduce the cost of carriers charging Twitter for spam SMS messages. Elon Musk supported this move in a tweet.
Following Twitter’s lead, Meta has also announced a new security subscription service. The company plans to introduce a paid verification service similar to Twitter Blue. This service is designed to help “up-and-coming creators” grow their audiences, and will provide a blue check, increased visibility, and access to a real person for account support. The service will also include proactive account monitoring for impersonators who might target people with growing online audiences.
From one perspective, both these moves are understandable. Twitter still allows free app-based two-factor authentication, which is typically a more secure option, and pushing more people toward it is a good thing. Meta’s new plan follows a common strategy for enterprise users: charging businesses an extra fee for expedited, full-featured support. The company is trying to solve a real customer service problem, as users have been turning to black-market account restoration services when their accounts get hacked.
Monetary incentives are commonly used as a means of regulating behavior on the internet
Money can be a powerful tool in applying friction to bad actors online, but it can also have downsides. The vast scale and seamlessness of the web make it easy for bad actors to create numerous accounts, while offering customer support to billions of users is staggeringly difficult. Some smaller social spaces have used subscriptions or fees as a quality filter, but this approach can be challenging on larger platforms.
For example, Twitter’s recent move to phase out SMS-based two-factor authentication in favor of a more secure option has caused some concerns. The company is trying to turn a profit from the change while simultaneously moving users onto a better security option. However, the one-month timeline and luxury framing of the new option may lead some users to turn off 2FA altogether.
In contrast, Meta’s plan to flag accounts at special risk for impersonation as a premium upgrade makes sense, while also improving the service for everyone. This plan helps to build trust in the platform and creates a better experience for users. However, there is concern that charging fees for premium upgrades may reduce the incentive to improve customer service for non-paying users.
Many companies are now trying to make users pay for previously free or cheap options, but on social networks, there needs to be a balance between revenue from individual users and the health of the ecosystem as a whole. Security is a foundational element of any digital service, but as companies look to tighten their belts, there is a powerful incentive to extract a monthly fee along the way.