Elon Musk has sparked outrage among fans of his social media platform X by suggesting he might introduce a monthly fee for all users, in what would be the biggest shake-up since he took over the site then known as Twitter last October.
During a talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Musk said that introducing a small monthly payment for X would combat the "armies of bots" on the site.
Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion but has since admitted its value has plunged after he gutted its workforce and allowed right-wing conspiracy theorists back on the site, sending advertisers fleeing.
X users united in dismay at his latest plan, suggesting it could finally put an end to the site, and analysts questioned the logic of a move that would make the platform even less appealing to advertisers.
Musk said in July the platform had lost roughly half its advertising revenue, though he has also claimed that almost all advertisers had returned.
Bots -- accounts run by computer programs rather than humans -- are common on X, where they can be used to amplify political messages or racial hatred.
Netanyahu asked Musk about anti-Semitism, and how X could "prevent the use of bots -- armies of bots -- to replicate and amplify it".
Musk replied that the company was "moving to having a small monthly payment for use of the X system".
"It's the only way I can think of to combat vast armies of bots," he said, explaining that even a small fee would make it expensive to run bots.
- 'Network effect' -
The conversation, which was broadcast on X, came as the Tesla tycoon is mired in a row with the Anti-Defamation League, a US-based Jewish organization.
Musk has threatened to sue the ADL for making unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism that have scared away advertisers and hurt his company's revenue.
Musk has long been accused of promoting anti-Semitic tropes.
Just a day before meeting Netanyahu, Musk responded to a post blaming Jewish billionaire George Soros for encouraging immigration to Europe, saying: "The Soros organization appears to want nothing less than the destruction of western civilization."
His move to make users pay sparked thousands of critical messages and memes on Tuesday.
"RIP X/Twitter! It's been REAL and it's been FUN but since you took over, it ain't been REAL FUN," a user called Jesi T wrote.
James Cooper, director of the Business of Apps agency, said introducing a blanket paywall would crush the "network effect" of having millions of people interacting on the site, one of its biggest appeals for both advertisers and users.
"Universal charging for the service would decimate the user base and therefore destroy the value in the network and the reason to take part in the platform as a contributor," he told AFP.
By Joseph Boyle