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Twitter lets users send cash 'tips' to their favourite users

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·4 min read
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Jack Dorey, seen here as a younger man with a much neater, shorter beard and his hair swept back from a side parting, looks quizzically up away from his smartphone as he is surrounded by reporters and others outside the New York Stock Exchange  - Yana Paskova/Bloomberg
Jack Dorey, seen here as a younger man with a much neater, shorter beard and his hair swept back from a side parting, looks quizzically up away from his smartphone as he is surrounded by reporters and others outside the New York Stock Exchange - Yana Paskova/Bloomberg

Twitter users can now send money directly to their favourite influencers, charities and journalists through a digital tip jar.

Select tweeters were suddenly granted the new feature on Thursday, with all English-speaking users now able to tip them through a preferred payment app on iPhones and Android phones.

The social network said it wanted to give users a new way to earn money from its service instead of having to rely on ephemeral likes and retweets. For now it will take no fee, instead hoping to make its service more attractive to creators.

Senior product manager Esther Crawford said the tips would help users support the "incredible voices" that drive Twitter's appeal, adding that the feature would be expanded to more users in future.

But a security expert who probed the system found that tipping via Paypal sometimes exposed the giver's full address to the receiver, raising safety concerns.

Rachel Tobac, a hacker who tests clients' networks for loopholes, said: "PayPal needs to make it crystal clear which data is given to money receivers and stop sharing that data, and Twitter needs to educate users who don’t realise what info tip receivers get when using PayPal."

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Twitter's head of product Keyvon Bekypour said the company could not control PayPal's policy but would add a warning for people giving tips.

A spokeswoman for PayPal said that users could avoid showing their address by selecting "friends and family" rather than "goods and services" when sending tips. The latter appears to be the default setting when tapping through from Twitter.

Meanwhile, Twitter's chief executive Jack Dorsey enjoyed sterling first quarter results for his other company, Square, which makes simple payment terminals for retailers and a money-sending app called Cash App.

The company made a loss of $39m of $964m (£28m) on revenues of $5.1bn (£3.6bn), versus Wall Street's expected $3.4bn. More than half of that came from a surge in users buying Bitcoin amid this year's cryptocurrency spree.

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Twitter has long suffered from a lack of compensation for successful users, who can attract hundreds of thousands of followers and retweets without being able to directly monetise their work.

Viral tweets are often followed by requests for money via third-party services such as KoFi and Venmo, while users frequently appeal for help with medical bills, rent or other costs using donation sites such as GoFundMe.

Tip jars are just one of Twitter's many plans to obviate that activity or bring it in-house. It is building a "super follow" feature that lets users subscribe to specific tweeters, and recently bought Breaker, a podcast app, and Revue, an email newsletter service.

Ms Crawford said: "We $ee you – sharing your PayPal link after your tweet goes viral, adding your $Cashtag to your profile so people can support your work, dropping your Venmo handle on your birthday or if you just need some extra help.

"You drive the conversation on Twitter and we want to make it easier for you to support each other beyond follows, retweets, and likes."

However, the system could also worsen Twitter's problem with disinformation or open it up further to scams. High-profile users such as Elon Musk have been plagued by impersonators trying to trick fans into sending them cryptocurrency, and last year hackers seized numerous celebrity accounts for the same purpose.

This story was updated at 3:51pm on Friday May 7, 2021, to include a statement from PayPal.